Several thousand furious residents confronted riot police in Haimen township, Shantou, for a third day yesterday. The authorities tried to drive them away with volleys of tear gas.
Roads leading to the Shenzhen-Shantou highway remained blocked by thousands of armed police, who shouted at residents and fired tear-gas canisters. But those who fled returned as soon as the gas dispersed.
Police vehicles equipped with water cannon were also on standby and nearly 600 armed police continued to guard the highway last night.
'We won't go until the government totally abolishes its plan to build another coal-fired power plant in our town,' said a 40-year-old man with eyes bloodshot from tear gas. 'We couldn't stop them from building a huge power plant in 2006, but we won't let it happen again.
'The 160,000 residents of Haimen need fresh air to breathe, clean water to drink and safe fish from the sea. But the government simply ignores our demands and human rights.'
He said many villagers had been diagnosed with cancer since the power plant started operating.
The official Xinhua news agency reported yesterday that five protesters had been detained on Wednesday night, but denied there were any casualties in the town.
The Shantou Economic Zone Evening News ran reports yesterday about the 'confessions' of three of the protesters, aged between 19 and 24, who were detained while occupying the Shenzhen-Shantou highway on Tuesday.
'I was wrong and I was stupid. I want to correct my mistake now,' one 21-year-old protester told the newspaper. He had thrown bottles at the police.
The authorities warned residents through television and newspaper announcements that protesters who occupied the highway, smashed cars or attacked the police were breaking the law and damaging state assets. The media pronouncements said that people should make use of legal channels to air their grievances.
The janitor's room at the Haimen township government headquarters was smashed by protesters throwing bricks, and the plaques of the people's congress and government were torn down and thrown into the street.
Xinhua also quoted the party boss of Chaoyang district, Chen Xinzhao, as saying the new plant was still in the planning stage and construction would not start unless it passed an environmental assessment and won the consent of local residents. Haimen is in the district's jurisdiction.
Meanwhile, Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang, the party's top security official, said the authorities should try to resolve disputes 'at the grass-roots level' to prevent violence.
'We must deepen our efforts to mediate conflicts and disputes, improving the system of mediation to resolve conflicts and disputes at the grass-roots level and nip them in the bud,' Xinhua quoted Zhou as saying.