02/20/2013, 00.00
CHINA
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Mao's heirs face impossible challenge, swimming in polluted rivers

Money offered to Communist officials to swim in some of the most polluted rivers rises to 300,000 yuan from 200,000. Officials respond by blaming "residential waste". Meanwhile, the authorities are increasingly hard-pressed to cope with the situation.

Wenzhou (AsiaNews) - Ordinary Chinese continue to challenge Communist party officials over the country's growing pollution problem. A 300,000 yuan (US$ 50,000) offer was made in the city of Longgang to a local official to swim for 30 minutes in a local polluted river. A similar one was issued by an entrepreneur in Zhejang a few days ago. Both cases underscore a growing irritation with the authorities and widespread corruption, which makes pollution much worse.

The latest proposal was made online. Someone calling himself 'Wenzhou netizen' posted the challenge. "All waterways in Longgang town are filled with stinky, polluted water, critically threatening people's health," he wrote on Monday. "Based on this, I offer a reward of 300,000 yuan to Cangnan Environmental Protection Bureau Chief Su Zhongjie if he can swim for 30 minutes in the polluted river," the announcement read. The post included a photo of a river.

The same challenge was reposted the next day on microblogging website Sina Weibo. In a comment, Weibo user Lin Kaixiao noted that the polluted river flows through the town centre, and that the dark water smells horribly.

A resident who lives near the river added that the waterway has been polluted for years. "Those nearby have to live with the unbearable smell. We do not dare to open our windows in the summer," he explained.

Environmental chief Su blamed the problem on residential, not industrial waste. "We will have zero tolerance for water pollution," he claimed.

Bao Zhenmin, the first official challenged, refused to swim in the river, pointing instead the finger at residents to avoid blaming a local leather factory.

Pollution and corruption are the Chinese Communist Party's Achilles' heel. Policies introduced by President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao have failed to stop a problem that is putting at risk public health and the environment.

Despite everything, Chinese authorities continue in fact to seek high levels of economic growth and are prepared to tolerate industrial overproduction, the main cause of high levels of pollution.

China's incoming paramount chief Xi Jinping, who will become president next month, has acknowledged the problem but has so far not said how he would tackle it.

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