07/31/2009, 00.00
CHINA
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Hunan: police arrest of six protesters over polluting factory almost sets off riot

The chemical plant involved has been contaminating the local soil with heavy metals for years, causing a number of deaths. Now residents want free medical check-ups and treatment as well as compensation. Police arrest protesters but comes close to provoking a violent reaction in the population which is now laying siege to the local government office and police station.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – More than 1,000 villagers laid siege to a government office and police station in Hunan yesterday in protest against the arrest of six people demonstrating against alleged pollution from a chemical factory. At least four people have died from pollution-related illnesses and many more have been made ill.

Residents in Shuangqiao village, in Zhentou Township, demonstrated on Wednesday calling for free medical check-ups and treatment, as well as compensation for ruined crops and land. They blame the Xianghe Chemical Co which has a plant that is located very close to the village and its farmland. Residents have accused it of contaminating the area with cadmium and indium, heavy metals respectively used in the production of batteries and liquid crystal displays, but which if ingested can cause digestive system failure and other health problems.

Until last May residents in Shuangqiao regularly ate local products. Since then they have had to live on food and water trucked in from elsewhere. Two months ago laboratory tests on soil samples from the village showed that it was poisoned and that it would not be safe for farming for another 60 years.

In the meantime people are dying. A 70-year-old neighbour, Tang Haisheng, died from cadmium poisoning this month. The local government offered 400,000 yuan to the victim’s family to cover up the scandal.

Last week another villager died. Tests found that Xiong Shusheng had 8.9 times the acceptable level of cadmium in his body.

Medical check-ups also found that 181 people working at the chemical plant were ill, a figure probably higher because the area’s actual population is unknown.

The action by residents in Shuangqiao is not unique. Some 87,000 incidents of social unrest were recorded in the country last year, largely due to clashes over land and water pollution.

Throughout the country local authorities have tended to side with industrial groups, convinced that factories bring wealth despite the pollution they cause, and are prepared to use the long arm of the law to defend corporate interests against farmers’ protests.

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