23 October 2012
The Washington Post
Copyright 2012, The Washington Post Co. All Rights Reserved
BEIJING - An environmental protest in a small fishing town in southern China has turned into a protracted nine-day clash between villagers and police, with stones thrown, tear gas deployed, and dozens injured and arrested, witnesses said Monday.
The confrontation is the latest as citizens have become increasingly incensed at the environmental toll wrought by three decades of unbridled and often rapacious economic and industrial growth.
In recent months, at least two other large-scale environmental protests have forced local authorities to back down and, at least temporarily, suspend planned projects. And as the country's ruling Communist Party approaches a sensitive and rare transition of leadership, officials are increasingly worried about such mass demonstrations.
The most recent incident was prompted by local officials' plans to build a coal-fueled power plant and a harbor for coal shipments in the village of Yinggehai, on Hainan Island at China's southern tip.
Fearing that the plant could devastate the environment, residents, who mostly depend on fishing for their livelihood, began to protest on Oct. 13. At first, it was mostly older women demonstrating outside the local government's fishery department, according to a witness who owns a fishing business and, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of an ongoing crackdown by authorities. Town officials did not return calls seeking comment.
The women decided to confiscate as evidence a sign for the harbor project that referred to it as a "fishing harbor" rather than a "coal-shipping harbor," the business owner said.
When armed officers tried to retrieve the sign, one of the women was hurt, which touched off widespread anger among men in the village. That night, thousands of men turned out and began throwing stones and bricks at police, who responded with tear gas.
For days, the protest followed a pattern of women protesting by day and men clashing with authorities at night, when it is more difficult to photograph and identify violent protesters.
The Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, based in Hong Kong, said in a statement that it estimates that more than 10,000 villagers and 3,000 police have been involved in the clashes, with more than 100 injured and 50 arrested.
The bulk of the arrests were made Sunday, after authorities, in an attempt to stop the protests, according to one villager, announced on television a long list of citizens wanted by police. A second most-wanted list has been announced, and on Monday, it seemed to be working.
"Almost every night, you could hear the glass being broken, the shouting and fighting, said the villager. "But since yesterday, the town has been quiet."
Liu Liu contributed to this report.