07/04/2012, 00.00
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Sichuan: residents stop the construction of a cancer-causing plant

After two days of demonstrations and clashes with police, the people of Shifang succeed in stopping the construction of a US$ 1.6 billion molybdenum-copper alloy plant. Party releases demonstrators arrested. Online, "people's patience" wears thin. "It is time for us to be independent," some say.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - After two days of protests and clashes with police, residents of Shifang (southwestern province of Sichuan) succeeded in getting the government to stop a molybdenum-copper alloy plant. We "have decided to stop construction on the plant and it will never be built in Shifang," the city's Communist Party chief, Li Chengjin, said in a statement. Locals were concerned the plant would increase already high cancer-causing agents present in the air due to local industry.

People had taken to the streets on Sunday to stop construction. 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 last night without charges.

Shifang protests show that people are increasingly aware of environmental problems and unhappy about the Communist Party's ways to promote development.

Despite the central government's promises of a "green" future for China, local Communist leaders seize land from residents to sell to polluting private companies. The net result is tens of thousands of episodes of protest that are now bearing fruit.

Initially, the City of Shifang and Sichuan Hongda offered to suspend construction of the US$ 1.6 billion plant. However, growing protest and media focus, both foreign and domestic, convinced them to change their mind.

Meanwhile, protesters are still demanding the release of six fellow protesters still in detention.

On the Internet, more and more people say those responsible for the violent crackdown must be held to account. This represent a major shift compared to the past. Not only are protesters getting what they want, but they are also demanding that wrongdoers pay for their deeds.

"It is the 4th of July. 236 years ago, America achieved independence and 236 years later, the Shifang people are fighting for their own rights," a microblogger wrote on popular sina.com. "The government has repeatedly squandered the people's patience. It is time for us to be independent," he added.

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