07/19/2005, 00.00
CHINA
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Chinese farmers shutdown polluting pharmaceutical plant

Tensions in the countryside are on the rise.

Xinchang (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Farmers attacked Jinxing Pharmaceutical on July 4 in Xinchang, a town about 200 kilometres south of Shanghai, forcing it to shut down. According to the plant's director's secretary, Xu Xiaoming, hundreds of farmers were involved because of pollution and industrial waste.

"On July 4, some farmers from the nearby villages got together and attacked our factory," Mr Xu said by telephone.

Villagers pushed down a boundary wall and attacked a building used by factory security, Mr Xu said.

Production has been suspended since July 4 and the plant has been unable to make deliveries.

But "the direct loss is not very big actually since they did no harm to the plant and our equipment, but this event affects our production," Mr Xu added.

Government officials are negotiating with the farmers to peacefully restart production but "I don't have any idea when we can resume production," Mr Xu said.

Pollution, unjust land grabs and rampant corruption are the main causes of popular resentment.

Protests in China rose from 10,000 in 1994 to 74,000 in 2004, according to figures released by public security officials. Some 3.67 million people have been involved.

The issue has reached the top echelons of the Communist Party. According to Li Jingtian, deputy director of the party's Organisation Department, mass protests have increased because local authorities have "not able to dissipate those conflicts or problems that have triggered the mass incidents". He stressed that the Party is increasingly concerned by rural protest.

President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said that the "problems of rural areas are the government's most important modernisation task". But many rural cadres, Li said, are more likely to cause problems than solve them.

Zhou Yongkang, National Security Minister and State Councillor, acknowledged that rising protests were "internal conflicts among the people" that had been triggered mainly by domestic economic factors, the behaviour of cadres and a lack of justice. They were the tip of the iceberg.

The incidents, he said, showed farmers knew how to protect their rights and interests and hailed their willingness to speak up against injustice.

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