Wong Lok-to | Radio Free Asia
Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu have deployed truckloads of riot police after thousands of local residents took to the streets in a third day of mass protests over plans to build a nuclear processing plant near their homes.
Footage shot by local residents showed truckloads of armed police in full riot gear driving down the boulevards and massing on sidewalks in Jiangsu’s Lianyungang city.
“There were probably about 8,000-10,000 people [at the protests],” a protester surnamed Hu told RFA. “I saw them myself. It was very crowded; everyone packed in together.”
“Then they sent in the riot police and the armed police, who had guns and batons, and they started beating people up,” Hu said.
“They beat up anyone: men and women, old and young, and they pointed their guns at people’s heads to frighten them.”
He said rumors had circulated that a young man and a young child were beaten to death during the melee. RFA was unable to confirm this report.
The city government denied any deaths had occurred on its official microblog account on Monday.
Protesters said they were continuing to march on Monday.
“We are heading over to the municipal government today,” one local resident told RFA.
The resident, who asked not to be identified, said she was also present at Sunday’s protest.
“There were a lot of people there, and the roads were completely blocked, so no traffic could get past,” the protester said.
“It was really huge. There were so many people there,” she said.
But she said she saw nothing wrong in protesting.
“We are all thinking about the next generation. There’s nothing wrong with that,” she said.
A second resident surnamed Lu said he had continued to demonstrate on Monday, in spite of police using batons and pepper spray on protesters.
“This project will affect future generations, and we don’t need it here,” Lu said.
“We have come here to tell them that, because we have no voice.”
Rights activist Wang Fazhan, who has been following the protests, said police had detained an unknown number of people during the clashes.
“They were protesting against the nuclear waste processing plant, and then the government said they wouldn’t build it,” Wang said.
“But it seems that nobody really believed the government, so they went out in protest, and there were clashes,” he said.
An official surnamed Xu who answered the phone at the Lianyungang municipal government propaganda department on Monday said no firm decisions have been made regarding the plant, which may eventually be built somewhere else instead.
“Nothing’s been decided yet,” Xu said. “Lianyungang is just one of six possible locations nationwide for this project.”
He dismissed protesters’ concerns, however.
“I think perhaps a small minority of local residents don’t understand the project, and some of them have gotten together,” he said.
He also denied reports of police brutality.
“Our police protect people’s rights, and there haven’t been any major clashes,” Xu said.
He dismissed online reports of deaths as “rumor-mongering.”
But while Xu and another Lianyungang official contacted by RFA said nothing has been decided, the city government said via its social media account that the project–a central-government “key infrastructure” project–had already been “approved” at both provincial and municipal level.
The waste processing plant would “bring great benefits to Lianyungang’s economy,” the tweet said.
Local authorities have meanwhile imposed an information blackout on the city, while nationwide state media have made no mention of the Lianyungang protests.
The Lianyungang government also issued a statement reminding officials not to make any public statements that contradict the official line established by the leadership of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
“It is also forbidden to transmit any information about illegal gatherings, protests or demonstrations via SMS, tweets or smartphone messaging services,” the statement said.
“Rumor-mongering and the transmission of information having an impact on social stability is also banned,” it said.
It called on local officials to carry out “education and management duties” among the local population.
And it warned that officials would “pursue those responsible for leading and gathering crowds.”
China sees tens of thousands of “mass incidents” every year, many of which are sparked by pollution, corruption and illegal land grabs, but very few make it into the country’s tightly controlled media.
The country has an exemplary set of environmental legislation, but campaigners say powerful vested interests ensure that it is rarely implemented at local level.
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