Several arrests as Kunming protest over petrochemical plant ends

Hundreds gathered outside government offices on Thursday morning to protest against plans for a petrochemical plant, in the second major public display against the project. A Post staff reporter was at the scene.

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 May, 2013, 11:59am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 August, 2013, 4:13am

Updated 5.32pm: Only 20 people are left at the scene. More than 100 police have cordoned off the street and the area where the dialogue with the mayor took place. Mayor Li answered about 15 questions from the crowd before he disappeared into a military building nearby. One source confirms the arrest of at least one person.

Updated 5.28pm: Eight protesters left their contact details with the mayor's staff. 

Updated 5.22pm: He says several friends could not attend the rally today, because they were instructed by their community committees not to go. He says he had also been warned, but ignored it, because he is not afraid of the police and is only seeking to peacefully express his ideas. 

Updated 5.20pm: "I hope this can be a good beginning for a dialogue between citizens and the government on major decisions," says a 24-year-old man who calls himself Eddie. He is among the few who left their contact details with the mayor's staff. 

Updated 5.16pm: Some protesters who left scene when the mayor was still talking said they don't have faith in the government. They say that the government was only interested in maintaining stability before the China-South Asia Expo will start on June 6. They said the mayor evaded questions on whether the refinery project would go ahead. 

Updated 5.06pm: Mayor Li leaves, enters a military-owned building. Protesters seem to be gradually leaving the scene. 

Updated 4.58pm: Dialogue with mayor ends. About eight people leave their contact details with an aide to arrange a meeting next week. 

Updated 4.53pm: Li replies that he will meet protesters on Wednesday. All levels of government have good intentions, he says, but their methods may not always be right. He promises improvement.  

Updated 4.50pm: A reporter from the Yunnan CPCC Daily asks Li whether the government will continue to delete microblog posts and keep inviting people "to drink tea", i.e. question and intimidate them.  

Updated 4.48pm: Li says the government hasn't done enough to inform the public in the past. 

Updated 4.46pm: Some protestors leave the dialogue and tell reporters not to believe what mayor Li is saying. 

Updated 4.44pm: Li says the municipal government has legal tools to supervise state-owned enterprises as long as it wants to. Li says he welcomes public scrutiny of government actions. 

Updated 4.42pm: A protester questions the credibility of government environmental reviews, asks Li how Kunming city could possibly challenge large state-owned enterprises. 

Updated 4.38pm: Li says he will continue to live in Kunming after his retirement, his parents and all his relatives live in Kunming. Li says that the city will invest in pollution treatment so that the skies will not turn as grey as they are in Beijing. 

Updated 4.36pm: Li asks the crowd not to interrupt him, so that he could express himself. 

Updated 4.35pm: Li rejects the idea of an online real-name vote, calling it unrealistic. 

Updated 4.33pm: Li says there is no precedent in China for the practice of one-person-one-vote, he says he cannot promise a vote. 

Updated 4.31pm: Li bows to the protesters and apologises for bad communication, promises an "equal dialogue."

Updated 4.30pm: Li says if he doesn't open a weibo account by tomorrow, he will step down. He promises public hearings on the matter of the refinery. He asks people who want a face-to-face dialogue with the the government to leave their telephone numbers. He promises the government will arrange meetings before next Wednesday. 

Updated 4.25pm: Li says the protesters shouldn't have gathered in public. 

Updated 4.22pm: Video of a resident addressing the mayor 10 minutes ago. 

Updated 4.23pm: Li says that anyone calling for the release of detained protesters is spreading rumours. The mayor is getting visibly angry.

Updated 4.21pm: A news reporter from the Yunnan CPPCC Daily asks the mayor why his newspaper has never been allowed to write about open questions related to the refinery. He also says the government should stop paying experts to make positive statements about the refinery.   

Updated 4.18pm: Mayor Li says no one has been detained. 

Updated 4.16pm: Residents ask the mayor why people had been taken away by police. 

Updated 4.14pm: Mayor Li says that the government will heed public opinion and explain the project better. The PX project will be decided by the public, he says.  

Updated 4.10pm: A resident asks the mayor to call a referendum on the project and to allow open media coverage. "The Kunming media is heavily manipulated and does not reflect the public opinion," he says.

Updated 3.58pm: Kunming mayor Li Wenrong addresses the protesters. 

Updated 3.42pm: A message by Hu Kailin, a municipal party official, from Wednesday circulates on Sina Weibo warning that Yunnan could be excluded from China's economic development if the refinery gets cancelled.

Updated 3.40pm: "The people of Kunming are waking up now," says a man, when asked why he has never protested in public before.

Updated 3.35pm: A 40-year-old man says he is not worried about his safety as long as the protest remains peaceful. An earlier attempt to provoke police by throwing bottles had been stopped by other protesters. People are picking up garbage left by protesters. 

Updated 3.22pm: Two protesters tell the Post they don't think the protest would change anything, but they still want to express their opposition. Updated 3.14pm: Some 300-400 people are marching towards Jinma Biji Fang, an area with many bars and restaurants.

Updated 3.11pm: The influential business magazine Caijing reports on the protest on its Sina Weibo microblog. 

Updated 3.07pm: A female protester, aged 35, says she hopes the government can listen to their pleas and cancel the project. Another woman says that she thinks nothing can stop the refinery, but she still wants to voice her opposition.

Updated 3.05pm: "Police, stand with us," some protesters urge.


Updated 2.46pm: Police is following the crowd.

Updated 2.42pm: Drivers in their cars along the road honk in support of the protesters and give them a thumbs up. Crowd cheers.  

Updated 2.39pm: Posts on Sina Weibo sharing the Post's live coverage of the protest are being deleted.

Updated 2.32pm: "Get out, refinery!", protesters shout.

Updated 2.30pm: Protesters march towards Nanping Street, a popular shopping area in the city.

Updated 2.29pm: Some 500 people are in the marching crowd, more onlookers observe the protest from the sidelines.

Updated 2.27pm: Police are filming onlookers and protesters. 

Updated 2.25pm: More people are joining the protest.

Updated 2.24pm: Protesters throw water bottles at police. 

Updated 2.22pm: Protesters are marching down the street towards a wall of policemen waiting for them at the next intersection. 

Updated 2.16pm: About 400 to 500 people are marching away from the government compound, but continuing their protest.

Updated 2.13pm: Police try to form a human wall to block protesters marching away from the government compound, but fail to stop them. Most protesters are now walking away from the compound.

Updated 2.00pm: About 300 to 400 protesters who had left the scene earlier are re-joining the demonstration.

Updated 1.52pm: Ban for university students to attend rally seems to have worked, says the Post's staff reporter. No local students could be found in the crowd.

Updated 1.50pm: Police outnumber protesters at the scene.

Updated 1.42pm: About two hundred protesters are left. Onlookers are gathering near the intersection. 

Updated 1.38pm: Police is still blocking the road south of the government compound. One protester holds a placard that reads "justice".

Updated 1.30pm: Crowd suddenly getting smaller. 

Updated 1.27pm: "Police officers are Kunming residents too," some demonstrators shout. "Police officers drink Kunming water too."

Updated 1.24pm: "Please, Premier, make a decision for Kunming," a new banner reads.

Updated 1.17pm: An estimated 1,000 people are demonstrating. One man who participated in the previous protest on May 4 says fewer people have joined today.  

Updated 1.10pm: "Police, release them!" protesters shout. Demonstrators tell the Post that three or four people holding banners had been taken away by authorities in the morning, when the crowd was still small.


Updated 12.59pm: A 48-year-old protester surnamed Wu said he skipped work today to join the protest. He said he didn't ask for leave. His company would not have approved, because Kunming authorities have been warning the public not to join any gatherings today. 

Updated 12.51pm: "Give us back the beautiful Spring City [Kunming], say no to the refinery," a banner reads.

Updated 12.48pm: "Get out, refinery!" protestors shout. 

Updated 12.42pm: More police are deployed to cordon off the protesters from onlookers. 



Updated 12.30pm: Police presence is increasing. 

Updated 12.26pm: Traffic is not completely disrupted by the protest. The police are trying to keep traffic going by preventing demonstrators from completely blocking the street. About 20 more people join the protest, but no significant increase at the moment.

Updated 12.13pm: "If the refinery is clean and safe they claim it to be, why does the government not dare to publish the environmental review report?", asks a man surnamed Wang, who is in his 40s.

Updated 12.10pm: First group of demonstrators are joined by another group, who marched from the other side of the government compound. "Join us, Kunming residents," they shout. 

Earlier on Thursday morning: Hundreds of people have gathered near the Yunnan provincial government's seat to protest against the construction of a petrochemical refinery and a related paraxylene (PX) plant in Anning near the province's capital Kunming. 

Traffic has been blocked by the protest one block away from the government's seat and rows of police have cordoned off the block.

The number of protesters is still increasing as people stuck on public buses and cars are joining in, the South China Morning Post reports from the scene of the protest.

"The refinery is too close to Kunming," a woman protester surnamed Liu said, holding pink flowers. "We don't want the refinery."

On Sunday, Kunming's deputy mayor Zhao Ligong, who is also Kunming's police chief, attempted to thwart the rally, warning that such a gathering would be illegal.

Two days earlier, the city's mayor Li Wenrong promised that the government would call off the PX project if the majority of residents opposed it.

This is the second major public display of opposition by Kunming residents against the project after a protest on May 4. Locals say they are concerned over the environmental impact of the project.

The project lies at the end of a massive pipeline project, that links a port in Myanmar's Rakhine State with the Yunnan capital. Sometime this month, a pipeline is scheduled to start supplying natural gas from Myanmar's offshore gas fields to the city. Construction of a second pipeline transporting oil is yet to be completed.