After 10,000 to 70,000 people assembled on Sunday without a permit in People’s Square in Dalian in north-eastern China, Chinese authorities have ordered that a petrochemical plant be shut down. The demonstration was “one of the biggest in a series of recent Nimby rallies against potential polluters in China,” says the Guardian. Local Communist party chief, Tang Jun, and Dalian’s mayor, Li Wancai have said they will close the plant “immediately” and relocate it. Some protesters have demanded a clear timetable for the plant to be shut down and said they will not leave the square until it is closed.
Here’s a video of the protests:
The protests occurred after reports last week that a protective dike around the Fujia factory, in the Jinzhou industrial complex, was breached by rain and high waves with typhoon Muifa approaching. The plant manufactures paraxylene (PX), which can be highly toxic; residents feared that PX could spill. PX is a benzene-based chemical widely used in plastic bottles, cleaning products and polyester clothing and, after long-term exposure, can damage vital organs. The wall of the dike has been repaired but residents were still fearful after reports emerged that the Fujia factory was operating illegally months before receiving government and environment approval, says the BBC.
The demonstration, called a “group stroll,” was organized via Sina Weibo (the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, which is banned in China) and Renren. A local student, David Gao, said the protest had grown so large that it spilled beyond the central People’s Square to outside city government offices and local streets. The crowd was largely peaceful and, says the Guardian, “white collar.” Protesters chanted “PX Out!”, “Refuse PX”, “PX out of Dalian” and held up banners saying “I love Dalian and reject poison” and “Give me back my home and garden! PX out! Protect Dalian!” Some sang old revolutionary songs; others wore gas masks and stood on police cars. Riot police were dispatched but only minor scuffles reported.
The BBC notes that, while the protests occurred, censors were still at work, with authorities blocking terms like “PX”, “Dalian” and “Dalian protests” on Weibo.
While political and human rights protests have been swiftly quashed by the Chinese government, other protests about environmental concerns have recently occurred. In the southern city of Xiamen, tens of thousands of people joined a protest walk of a PX prompt in 2007, after which the local government moved the facility elsewhere. The Guardian points out that many of the online calls for the Dalian protest made reference to the Xiamen protest, a large oil spill in Dalian last year and a 50 square kilometer oil slick explosion of two crude oil pipelines in the nearby Bohai Sea that was not reported for a month.
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