Protests Bring a Halt to Factory Construction
   2012-07-04 10:59:22    Global Times      Web Editor: Liuyuanhui

Opinion: Shifang Fiasco is a Lesson for all Local Governments

Local officials in Shifang, Sichuan Province, promised Tuesday that a heavy metal refinery project which has stirred mass protests would never be started while urging residents not to believe or spread rumors.

Li Jincheng, Secretary of the Shifang City Committee of the Communist Party of China, told reporters that the project was halted in response to public concern over environmental and health issues, asking the residents to remain rational and "have faith in the Party committee and government to properly address the matter."

The controversial plant has been a key project aimed at boosting employment and improving people's livelihoods following the deadly earthquake in 2008, explained Li, admitting that lack of proper publicity has resulted in public distrust and misunderstandings, according to the official Sina Weibo account of the Shifang government.

An official surnamed Guo with local environmental protection bureau told the Global Times that the project was approved by the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MOEP) and the proper procedures were followed and environmental assessments were approved.

The refinery project, with a total investment of 6.7 billion yuan ($1.05 billion) was expected to refine 40,000 tons of molybdenum and 400,000 tons of copper each year, according to the ministry's website.

Locals took to the streets in protest against the construction of the plant on Monday.

Thirteen people were injured during a confrontation with armed police, who dispersed the demonstrators with tear gas, said local government, who added that police fired gas canisters only after they were attacked and injured.

Protests continued on Tuesday after the city government announced the cessation of the project, but of a much smaller scale.

Around noon, young people from neighboring cities such as Deyang and Guangyang gathered in the city center square, including dozens of students.

Li Yang, a 25-year-old barber who was among the protesters, told the Global Times that the confrontation between police and protesters remained intense on Tuesday, with police throwing tear gas and other things to stop them taking to the streets.

Thousands of citizens gathered outside the government building at around 10 pm demanding the release of the students they claimed had been arrested, during which four people were injured.

The Shifang government said on Tuesday evening via Weibo that no deaths occurred during the incident as rumors had claimed, and some of the injured had been properly treated in hospital.

The city public security bureau warned early on Tuesday that those who instigated or organized illegal gatherings or protests would have to stop these illegal acts or they may face punishment.

Zhu Lijia, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance, told the Global Times that this confrontation in Shifang could have been predicted and should have been avoided.

"The central government has said for years that before making decisions, local governments should solicit public opinions carefully.

But in practice, the public's voices are always neglected and distrust toward government is generated during the process," Zhu said.

Authorities in China's northeastern city of Dalian ordered a chemical plant to be "immediately" shut down after around 12,000 residents took to the city's streets to voice pollution concerns in August last year.

"Local governments should explain pros and cons of the project effectively, not justifying themselves by saying the project has been approved by higher authorities," Zhu said.

He added that the officials responsible should be punished to avoid similar violent demonstrations from occurring in future.

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