Thousands March in Guangzhou Over Waste Plant Plans

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Residents of Shiling march in protest of a planned waste incinerator plant, July 15, 2013.
Residents of Shiling march in protest of a planned waste incinerator plant, July 15, 2013.
Photo courtesy of a protester.

Thousands of people marched on Monday in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou in protest over plans to build a waste incinerator plant on their doorstep, residents said.

Residents of Shiling township in the city's Huadu district marched on the township government offices, carrying banners and shouting slogans, eyewitnesses said, estimating that at least 10,000 people joined the protest.

The Huadu protest comes just one day after residents of Jiangmen won an apparent concession from local officials, who said they would cancel plans to build a nuclear fuel processing plant near the city after three days of demonstrations.

"Today's incident was huge, because the [planned] incinerator plant locations are just 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) from Shiling township," said a local resident surnamed Luo.

"About 100,000 people in five or six villages are affected, and we all decided that we shouldn't wait any longer [to make our point,]" Luo said.

"The march was all carried out peacefully, and about 300 people went inside the government building to make our opinions known," he said.

Local officials told them that environmental experts were visiting the area on Friday, and would explain the projects more carefully to local people, Luo said.

But he said such assurances were unlikely to hold water for local residents.

"If the government doesn't cancel the project, there will be more protests," he said. "And I think even more people will go."

A second resident surnamed Bi said most people were uneasy at having waste projects so close to their homes.

"In Shiling there are 300,000 people and a lot of factories," he said. "Whatever they say about it, the [waste plant locations] are very close to us."

Repeated calls to the Shiling township government went unanswered during office hours on Monday.

Jiangmen plant

Worsening levels of air and water pollution, as well as disputes over the effects of heavy metals from mining and industry, have forced ordinary Chinese to become increasingly involved in environmental protection and protest.

Elsewhere in Guangdong province, residents of Jiangmen city remained skeptical in spite of promises by local authorities to cancel a planned U.S. $6 billion uranium processing plant on their doorstep, local media reported on Monday.

Jiangmen officials on Saturday promised to cancel the China National Nuclear Corporation fuel processing project following mass protests by local residents against the plant.

On Saturday, the official Xinhua news agency said it had confirmed the cancellation of the project with the municipal government of Jiangmen, which administers Heshan near where the plant was to be constructed, and company sources.

But Jiangmen mayor Pang Guomei told local television that construction work wouldn't begin at the site in Zhishan township, until the government had heard "all citizens' opinions."

On Sunday, protesters poured once more onto the streets, as if the government hadn't spoken, once more marching to municipal government buildings.

"I think there are two to three times more than the [1,000] people who turned out on [Friday]," said one protester at the scene on Sunday. "They are still demonstrating outside the gates of the municipal government."

"They haven't said explicitly that they are going to shut it down," he said. "They have just extended the consultation period by 10 days."

Official media, meanwhile, blamed a lack of transparency in local government planning processes for the stand-off.

"The government, if it acts fast and loose, will soon lose its credibility," the English-language tabloid Global Times, which has close ties to the the ruling Chinese Communist Party, said in an editorial on Monday, blaming the protests on "an opaque and unreasonable decision-making process."

But it also warned: "A model whereby the government quickly bows to public demands when facing mass demonstrations should never run wild."

Government mistrust

Both the Jiangmen government and China National Nuclear Corporation have sought to reassure the public that the nuclear plant is absolutely safe, and won't cause radioactive pollution, even in extreme conditions like earthquakes.

But the planned uranium plant has sparked mistrust among local residents over the government's ability to prevent radiation leaking from the facility, and its sincerity in communicating with its own citizens.

Many in Jiangmen have the strong impression that the authorities are confident the plant will go ahead regardless of the results of environmental impact assessments or public consultations.

"The Jiangmen government is corrupt!" wrote one microblogger, identified only as Xiao Ying. "In the event of a nuclear accident, everything dies within a 30-kilometer (18.5 mile) radius, and nothing will grow in the 100-kilometer (62-mile) exclusion zone."

Jiangmen lawyer Wang Quanping said any radioactive pollution from the plant could affect the entire densely populated Pearl River Delta region, including neighboring Macau and Hong Kong.

"People in the Pearl River delta really care about this," Wang said. "If the government goes back on its word, I expect that public opinion against the project will get even stronger."

"I don't think the government should go ahead with this project."

Wang said such a major energy project should show impeccable respect for due process, including national-level parliamentary debate.

"They didn't submit it to the National People's Congress for discussion, and they didn't inform the local population," he said.

"This sort of process isn't in accordance with the law."

Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese service, and by Xin Yu for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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