China 'scraps' Shifang plant after violent protests

Chinese police (bottom) and paramilitary police (top) guard the government offices in the city of Shifang in China's Sichuan province on 4 July, 2012 Reports say a few hundred people are outside the city government office, but not visibly protesting

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Plans to build a copper alloy plant in Sichuan province have been scrapped following violent protests by residents, a Chinese official says.

Officials in Shifang posted a statement on the city's Twitter-like weibo account on Tuesday evening announcing the move.

"Shifang will not build this project henceforth," Shifang Communist Party head Li Chengjing said in the post.

The decision was made in response to public concerns, he added.

Sichuan Hongda, the company building the plant, said in a notice posted on the Shanghai Stock Exchange website that it had stopped construction after receiving a notice from the Shifang city government.

The plant would have boosted the city's economy and created jobs to aid recovery from the devastating 2008 Sichuan earthquake, said Mr Li in the statement.

But he acknowledged that authorities had failed to inform the public about the project, resulting in a lack of understanding and support.

The move came after protests on Sunday and Monday in Shifang involving large crowds of residents.

Large crowds

Local authorities said hundreds of residents and students were involved in the protests, while state-run Global Times, quoting an unnamed police officer, said "several thousand" took part.

A police officer stands guard as residents gather near the municipal government building in Shifang, Sichuan province 4 July, 2012

Both police and residents were injured in the clashes as bottles were thrown and cars damaged, they said.

Police also detained some of the protesters. A city government notice on Wednesday said that of the 27 people who were taken away, six remained in detention while the rest had been released.

"The remaining 21 people, after receiving criticism and education and repenting for their mistakes, were released at 11p.m. on 3 July," the government said on Wednesday.

The decision came as crowds of local residents gathered outside a government office demanding their release, reports said.

Reports from Shifang on Wednesday suggested that some tension remained. An AFP news report said that a few hundred people were still gathered outside the city government office, watched over by security personnel.

However, the crowd was not holding banners or protesting in any obvious manner and there was no sign of riot police, the report added.

'Growing awareness'

Editorials in state-run media acknowledged the residents' concerns, with the Global Times' Chinese editorial calling on local government officials to learn the lessons of Shifang.

China Daily said residents' lack of scientific understanding "may prevent some worthwhile projects from being launched", but said their "growing awareness" about rights and the environment was "good for the country".

The protests are also being widely discussed on weibo platforms - China's equivalent of Twitter - with users posting millions of messages as well as re-tweeted images.

Many were critical of the local government response, accusing the police of brutality, while others focused on the environment.

A resident in southern Guangxi province wrote on Tencent Weibo: "We can neither damage the environment, nor go along the path of 'pollution first, control later'."

Many users were also surprised by the fact that messages about Shifang have largely been left uncensored.

Protests of a similar nature in China in the past were usually censored on social media and in online searches.

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