07/05/2012, 00.00
CHINA

Shifang: govt to pay medical expenses of people hurt in clashes

Residents took to the street to stop a polluting plant and won. All but six protesters arrested have been freed and the project has been scrapped. More and more Chinese are become civic minded.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Shifang City authorities said they would pay the medical costs of people, both protesters and passers-by, hurt during three days of protest against the construction of a US$ 1.6 billion molybdenum-copper alloy plant.

As a result of clashes between locals and police, the city scrapped the plan. Residents were concerned that it would increase local cancer rates and pollute the countryside.

Protests began on 1 July. Local witnesses said that on the first evening police in anti-riot gear and soldiers took over the town's centre after firing tear gas to disperse the crowd.

Agents also took 27 people into custody for destroying public property; 21 were released without charges. The six still in custody are charged with throwing objects at police, but their status might improve since residents continue to demand their release.

A 15-year-old boy has accused riot police of excessive force. "I was a passer-by when 20 or 30 riot policemen rushed at me. One of them kicked me to the ground, and other policemen beat me with truncheons, while others kept stepping on and kicking me for about a minute."

Shifang residents' victory marks a turning point for China's pollution problem. Until recently, local Communist authorities tended to seize land without compensation to sell it to private interests that more often than not built polluting factories. However, more and more ordinary Chinese are become civic minded and demonstrations are proving successful.

The Communist Party is conscious it cannot stop social protests, which run in the tens of thousands each year, and so it has opted for compromise in cases where it would not lose face.

The central government has warned local officials "not to exaggerate" in such cases since they are often moved by corruption, reminding them "that the survival of the system of national government is at stake."

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