Guangdong: thousands protest against a coal power plant
Shenzhen Energy wants to build a second coal-fired power plant near the city. Residents staged sit-ins and organised marches to protest against the expected increase in pollution. Last month, they collected more than 30,000 signatures against the project.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Around 10,000 residents of Heyuan in northeastern Guangdong took to the streets on Sunday to protest against a new coal-fired power plant.

The demonstration began with thousands of people staging a peaceful sit-in outside city government offices at about 8 am. Many wore surgical masks and stickers denouncing the plant.

The crowd then marched through the downtown area shouting, "Give me back my blue sky" and "Go away power plant". Some protesters held small signs that read, "Stop feeding people with smog".

Police tried to disperse the protesters at around 10 am, sending more into the streets, quickly swelling their numbers before noon.

Protesters staged another sit-in about 200 metres from the administration office around lunchtime.

Scuffles broke out between police and protesters but no one was injured.

The Xinhua news agency carried a report on the demonstration and put the number of participants in the thousands.

"This is not just a small fraction of people with an ulterior motive but a concrete outpouring of public opinion from the entire Heyuan public. From babies to the elderly, everyone is appealing to our government to stop polluting our sky," a woman protester said, refusing to be named.

Last month, residents collected more than 30,000 signatures against the new plant. The latter is supposed to go up near the city, not far from the Xinfengjiang Reservoir Dam and power station, a major source of water for Hong Kong.

The city already has one coal-fired plant supplying electricity. Shenzhen Energy plans to spend US$ 1.3 billion to build the new plant to generate 11 billion kWh annually.

Construction was due to begin this year, according to local media. However, Huang Jianzhong, the deputy party secretary of Heyuan, addressed the crowd in the afternoon, saying the project was only in the preliminary study stage.

Still, protesters began a third march began at 4 pm blocking major roads. The city government could not be reached for comment.

China still depends on coal for 70 per cent of its energy needs. However, the authorities plan to cut consumption by 13 million tonnes.

In 2014, former Health Minister Chen Zhu co-authored an article published by the British medical journal The Lancet in which he admitted that pollution was responsible for 350-500,000 premature deaths.

A previous study in the same journal indicated that up to 1.2 million died because of polluted air in 2010.