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City scraps waste pipeline after thousands protest

Party boss has shirt torn off his back as crowd of demonstrators invades local headquarters
Fiona Tam
Jul 29, 2012

A city in eastern China scrapped an industrial waste pipeline after tens of thousands of anti-pollution protesters ransacked the local government headquarters, clashed with riot police and tore off the shirt of a Communist Party boss.

Computers were smashed, police cars overturned and police officers beaten up. Bloodied protesters were seen leaving the scene of the protest in Qidong , Jiangsu province, an hour’s journey from Shanghai, but police rejected rumours that some had been killed.

The demonstration was the latest in a string of protests sparked by fears of environmental degradation and underscores the social tensions confronting the central government as it approaches a once-in-a-decade leadership transition this autumn.

Shouting slogans, the demonstrators began gathering in the city’s Yongan Square at 5am, protesting that the waste-water pipeline from a Japanese-owned paper factory would discharge a huge amount of effluent into the sea every year, poisoning coastal waters.

Protesters pulled down the main gate of the government headquarters and rushed inside. They threw documents out of windows and seized luxury cigarettes and bottles of wine from offices. They confronted the city’s party boss, Sun Jianhua, in his office, tore off his shirt and tried to get him to wear a red T-shirt with the slogan “Strongly resist sewage from Oji”, a reference to the Oji Paper Group, the company behind the factory and planned pipeline.

Police escorted Sun from the scene. Photographs of him fleeing shirtless from the crowd were widely circulated online.

Six hours after the protest began, Zhang Guohua , the mayor of Nantong , which has jurisdiction overQidong, announced the scrapping of the pipeline plan.

It was unclear whether police made any arrests, but online postings said some demonstrators had been taken away. Police warned that those who used the internet to incite protest, and people who damaged public property, faced criminal charges.

A protester cited hospital sources as saying that at least 20 were injured and more people were sent to hospital at night. Residents said that they heard more than 100 demonstrators were taken away by police.

A shopkeeper near the government headquarters said: “Many protesters were injured when clashing with police, and I heard rumours some were beaten to death.”

The Qidong police bureau denied there had been any deaths, and said it had checked with the city’s hospitals and emergency centre.

After Zhang’s announcement, large numbers of riot police were sent to Qidong from nearby cities. Officers blocked roads around the government headquarters and all businesses were shut, residents said.

A receptionist at a hotel said: “All guests staying in our hotels are required to check out this afternoon. We don’t know when business will resume.”

Photographs circulating online showed trucks carrying armed police entering a middle school.

Access to the internet was shut off in Qidong, and censors blocked searches on Sina’s microblog service for “Qidong”.

A showdown over the plant had been brewing for days, with the authorities accused of harassing residents, including teenagers, in the past week in a bid to prevent them joining the protest.

The Oji Paper Group said on Friday that its purifying treatment conformed to the national standard.

It is the second time this month that mass protests over the environmental and health impacts of industrial installations have forced authorities to scrap or relocate them.

Organisers of the protest in Qidong said they had been inspired by a protest early this month in Shifang , Sichuan , in which tens of thousands of people took to the streets for several days, clashing violently with police, over plans to build a heavy-metal processing plant.

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