Dozens of people have been detained by police in the eastern industrial province of Zhejiang for taking part in a three-night demonstration against a New York-listed solar panel factory that was sparked by environmental concerns.
More than 40 people were taken away by local police on Thursday, while more were detained over the following two days, according to a local resident.
More than 500 people from Hongxiao village gathered on Thursday night in front of the factory of the Zhejiang Jinko Solar Co, in the city of Haining, demanding an explanation for the deaths of a large number of fish in a nearby river last month, according to a local government statement. Scuffles broke out as protesters overturned eight vehicles.
The protests continued on Friday and Saturday nights with reports of more scuffles.
Xinhua said four police cars were damaged on Friday. A local businessman, Ma Jie, said at least two protesters were injured on Saturday.
Deputy director of the Haining municipal Environment Protection Bureau, Chen Hongming, said at a press conference on Saturday the government was investigating claims against the Jinko factory. He also said environmental authorities had previously found the plant was discharging excessive pollutants, a problem it was ordered to fix.
Zhang Jian, the environmental chief of Jiaxing city, which oversees Haining, said on his microblog account on Saturday that the Haining Environment Protection Bureau had ordered the factory to cease production on all lines that produced sewage and exhaust gas.
However, the government has denied that the pollution blamed for the death of the fish has caused cancer, as some online postings claim.
Police detained a 33-year-old man who wrote online on September 8 that the pollution caused cancer in 31 of his fellow villagers and that six others had leukaemia. He was accused of 'spreading false information online', the Haining government said in a statement.
Calls to the factory, a subsidiary of the New York-listed Chinese solar company Jinko Solar Holding Co, went unanswered yesterday.
An investigation by the local environmental protection bureau showed heavy rainfall on August 26 had washed some of the factory's chemical waste into a nearby river and increased the fluoride ion in the water to levels far exceeding acceptable amounts.
'Investigations by health authorities found there was no increase in cancer and leukaemia cases or deaths of silkworms, as villagers said. There are some other problems behind the conflict,' Zhang wrote in his Sina Weibo microblog.
Local business owner Ma Jie said pollution in the area had been very common, as factories, mostly those specialising in solar panels and related technology, have flourished in the traditionally agricultural town.
Jinko entered the town in 2009 by acquiring a local module and cell manufacturer, becoming a leader in the industry locally.
'The factory used to place its solid waste in a warehouse, but recently started putting it in an open space, and the rain brought it down to the river,' Ma said. Dense fog and a pungent smell around industrial parks, which dot the suburbs of Haining, were nothing new, he said.