Thousands of residents clashed with police yesterday in the Guangdong coastal town of Haimen, near Shantou - inspired in part by unrest in the village of Wukan, 115 kilometres away.
Haimen residents, angered by government plans to build a coal-fired power plant on their doorstep and the pollution it would bring, surrounded the local government building and blocked the Shenzhen-Shantou expressway.
Residents of Wukan, near Lufeng , have been in open revolt against their local government for more than a week in a land dispute that first erupted in September.
Reports circulating online claimed that two people had died during clashes with police in Haimen and that several people had been taken away, but the deaths could not be independently confirmed. Online photos showed a stand-off between residents and riot police. Some postings said police fired tear gas and beat demonstrators who stormed government buildings.
Other photos showed dozens of armed riot police lined up along a road, and protesters surrounding a government building.
Residents blocked the Haimen section of the Shenzhen-Shantou expressway leading into the town after local government officials refused to see them. Traffic authorities in Guangzhou warned drivers to use other routes to Shantou as the expressway was cut in both directions because of a traffic accident.
Authorities in Haimen could not be contacted yesterday. But protesters dispersed in the afternoon after the government said it would temporarily suspend construction.
One Haimen resident, Zheng Yanping, said all the town's high school students were prevented from leaving school until late yesterday because of concerns they might join the protesters. He said the teachers gave students noodles to eat but prevented them from leaving their classrooms.
'Haimen is a small place, with only 130,000 people, but we try our best to protect our environment,' he said. 'We call on the central government to help us and allow overseas media to report what's happened because local media won't cover our story. The people of Wukan are a good model. People who fight together can put pressure on the authorities to negotiate.'
Tensions have been rising in Haimen since October, when Shantou officials attended a ground-breaking ceremony for a big Huadian Power International power plant.
The 5.7-billion yuan (HK$6.9 billion) project includes two 600MW generating units that authorities claim are highly efficient and environmentally friendly, as well as a port for unloading coal.
Haimen residents said the coal-fired power plant would ruin the township's coastal waters and cost fishermen their livelihood
'We already have a power plant that is a major source of pollution,' Zheng said, referring to the Huaneng Haimen Power Plant, the first 6GW 'ultra-supercritical' plant in Guangdong, which began operating in the district two years ago.
However, residents say that plant has been a nightmare.
'Since the plant has been running, we often notice bad smells in the air and even see white fog in the sky,' a Haimen resident said of the Huaneng power plant.