04/04/2014, 00.00
CHINA
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Protests against chemical plant in Maoming reach Guangdong capital

After five days, residents in Shenzhen and Guangzhou join protesters in Maoming against p-Xylene factory, call on the authorities to stop project. The latter respond with dozens of arrests - scores of injured protesters hospitalised.

Guangzhou (AsiaNews) - Protests against the construction of a chemical factory broke out in at least three cities in the rich southern province of Guangdong. As a result of the police crackdown, scores of protesters were taken into custody with dozens of more ending up in hospital.

In Maoming, site of the factory, residents do not want another chemical plant to worsen an already bad environmental situation.

From there, the protest movement spread to Shenzhen and even to the provincial capital of Guangzhou

The largest rally took place in Maoming, with thousands of participants, local sources report. Many protesters wore masks and carried signs, calling on the authorities to cancel the plant.

The latter is expected to manufacture p-Xylene, a critical component in making plastic bottles and polyester fabrics. If swallowed or inhaled, the compound can cause extreme damage.

Local residents began their protest on Sunday, and have refused to back down.

Their protesters was picked up in Shenzhen where about 20 protesters braved heavy rains yesterday to stage a rally in front of the local party headquarters. On Tuesday, a similar protest, with some 200 people, took place in Guangzhou.

In both cases, many wore masks and held signs saying - "PX project get out" and "No PX in Maoming" - demanding the provincial government release people detained by armed police during the first protests in Maoming on Sunday and that it apologise to the public.

After ten minutes, police moved in both cities, and detained demonstrators. It is unclear how many are still in jail.

Still, the protest did achieve one result. In Maoming, the authorities called a press conference to shed light on the plant and on the protests.

Zhou Peizhou, a deputy public security director in Maoming, admitted police officers had "accidentally injured" protesters in scuffles during the first protests on Sunday, but denied reports that 15 people were killed.

Instead, he said law enforcement had taken into custody 18 protesters for disturbing the social order, Zhou said.

Fifteen people, including four police, were treated in hospital for injuries and all were in a stable condition.

If the past is any lesson, protests are clearly the best way for ordinary Chinese to be heard.

In May 2013, residents in Kunming (Yunnan Province) took to the streets against the construction of a refinery. Although they ultimately failed in their goal, they got the government to promise that it would listen to protesters' demands through a meeting between residents and plant managers.

In 2011, thousands of protesters demonstrated against a chemical factory in Dalian. Protesters also forced the authorities to impose a heavy fine on an oil company responsible for a spill in Shandong province.

Protests also broke out in Wukan (Guangdong) in September 2011, with ordinary people making gains of a sort for the first time against the central government

This led the authorities in several villages and towns to opt for mediation with rather than repression against residents.

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