Govt hunts violent trash incinerator protesters

By Lu Chen in Hangzhou and Jiang Jie in Beijing Source:Global Times Published: 2014-5-12 0:58:01

Police officers stand on alert at an entrance of Jiufeng village in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province on Sunday afternoon. Clashes broke out Saturday after thousands of protesters rallied against a planned garbage incinerator in the village. Photo: Yang Hui/GT

The hunt for lawbreakers involved in violent clashes with police during a protest against construction of a trash incinerator in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, will continue, local authorities said Sunday.

The government also denied allegations that several protesters had died during the clashes on Saturday morning.

"There were no deaths as online rumors claimed," Bian Weiyue, deputy director of Hangzhou public security bureau, said at a press conference in Hangzhou Sunday.

Shi Jianhua, deputy head of the city's Yuhang district, said at the press conference that the project is still in the planning phase and an environmental impact assessment will be conducted. "Construction will not be started until it gains public support and legal approval," Shi said. 

Zhang Qin, head of Hangzhou Urban Planning Bureau, also pledged that public opinion would be heard.

Thousands of people allegedly gathered on Saturday in Yuhang in protest against the planned incineration plant in Jiufeng village out of fear of pollution. Violence broke out when police tried to drive away hundreds of people who had blocked traffic on the Hangzhou-Huangshan expressway.

Several local residents claimed to Global Times reporters that three people died and many others were injured during the clash.

"We were calm and organized, but the police began to beat us out of nowhere," one protester, who asked for anonymity, told the Global Times.

Hangzhou public security bureau said that police officers showed great restraint and mainly tried to talk people into leaving the expressway. No one died in the process, but several police vehicles and civilian vehicles were overturned by the crowd, with several police officers also sustaining injuries.

A list of 25 people suspected of causing public disorder was published on the official Sina Weibo account of Yuhang police on Sunday.

Meanwhile, those "involved in rumor-spreading and disturbing public order" were asked to surrender. Two people had surrendered as of Sunday, police said.

Local villagers said there had been several protests since mid-April after the project was put online to gather public opinion. More protesters flooded into Jiufeng village as construction vehicles were seen in the area Wednesday, which triggered suspicion that construction had already begun.

On Sunday, there was still a heavy police presence at Jiufeng, and cars were banned from entering. The highway section where the clashes took place was also cordoned off.

"We've been there for weeks, but nobody cared to listen. The plant is so close to us and our health is at risk," a villager, who would not give his name, told the Global Times. 

Some 20,000 residents signed a petition handed to Hangzhou Urban Planning Bureau in April. "We were simply raising questions as to whether Jiufeng is the best spot for such a plant and whether the plant can be operated without garbage sorting," said one petitioner surnamed Ma.

"Without garbage sorting beforehand, incineration can produce toxic gas," said Ma.

Ke Rongming, a Hangzhou-based lawyer, has previously filed suit against Zhejiang environmental protection authorities for poor public information disclosure on another garbage incineration plant in Hangzhou. The lawsuit was suspended in 2013 with no conclusion.

"Previous experience has taught us that little can be done to change the situation if the project is up and running," said Ke.

Professor Liu Jianguo, from the School of Environment at Tsinghua University, told the Global Times that garbage incineration technology is mature and well-developed.

"It's irresponsible to say that garbage sorting is needed before incineration. Some people think Western countries don't incinerate garbage now, but that's not true," said Liu.

A source close to local authorities told the Global Times that real estate developers and environmental activists may have incited the protest.

He also said no one died in the clashes. "No one ordered the police to beat the public. Officials do not need to risk getting fired by confronting the public simply for this project," said the source.

The source pointed out that the authorities had failed to be well-prepared for unexpected public reactions.

"Similar issues are difficult to solve in China when authorities lack credibility and enterprises fall short in social responsibility. Plus with  incitement from real estate developers whose interests suffer in the process, along with misleading information, we may see more cases like this," said Liu.

Liu suggested that residents should focus more on participation in project planning and supervision on project operation, instead of a complete ban on any construction.

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