Sichuan Environmental Protest Turns Violent (Updated)

Protesters gathered in the Sichuan city of Shifang on Monday to voice opposition to a planned molybdenum copper plant. The demonstration recalled last summer’s march against a chemical plant in Dalian, but this time violence broke out between protesters and riot police. Beijing Cream and Tea Leaf Nation have reposted photos showing large crowds, ranks of police, clouds of teargas and tearful and bloodied civilians, while China Real Time Report explained the “murky” details:

The exact size of the protest wasn’t clear, and city officials couldn’t be reached to comment. An employee at the emergency room of Shifang People’s Hospital said not many had sought treatment as a result of the protest, but declined to provide details.

A statement posted to the city government’s website said the type of people who supported the Shifang protests were the same as those supporting overseas groups opposed by the Chinese government. The statement specifically mentioned the banned spiritual movement Falun Gong and the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhism’s spiritual leader.

“Don’t have a superstitious belief in the paper tiger,” the statement read. “They are vicious and merciless and can only convey unrest.”

[…] The protesters’ exact concerns over the plant weren’t clear, but may likely be tied to health concerns. The American Cancer Society says in places where molybdenum is processed, prolonged exposure can cause weakness fatigue and headaches, among other ailments.

Local authorities did agree to suspend the project for now, according to the AP, to allow time to “educate” the local citizenry about the project. The announcement did not bring immediate resolution on the ground, however. From Tea Leaf Nation:

[…] @Jason9IN reports, “Real-time report — as of 11pm Beijing time [on July 2 [half an hour after the announcement]], the local county party boss, behind the cover of a few hundred special police force, urged everyone to leave the scene in three minutes. So far, no official has offered any formal explanations!” @single发型师 reports fatalities, “I won’t sleep tonight and will keep going until dawn. You have beaten to death three Shifang citizens. What else do you want to do?”

Zeng Ying, a columnist based in Sichuan (@曾颖眼中的世界), […] tweeted, “[…] Policemen, your children will also breathe the air that they fought for and drink the water that they fought for. Remember this, July 2, 2012, Shifang!”

Update: Reuters reports that local authorities have vowed to identify and punish protest organisers:

On its official micro blog, the Shifang government on Tuesday called on locals who have used the Internet, text messages and other means of “incitement” to “immediately stop their illegal activities”.

Public security officials will be lenient to people who surrender within three days for their roles in “incitement, planning and organizing the illegal assembly demonstrations and vandalizing”, the government promised.

But the rest would face harsher treatment.

“For those who refuse to surrender, upon investigation, the public security organs will severely punish them in accordance with the law,” it said, without adding what action lay in store.

The Guardian spoke to Ma Jun of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, who criticised the lack of transparency and public consultation surrounding the project:

“Heavy metal projects are always highly polluting. Of course the public has concerns about this,” he said.

“The government only released the short version of the plant’s environmental report, which did not have information about the solid waste and waste water. It should have released the full version.

“At the least, they needed to hold a public hearing. In other countries the public have legal recourse when their right to participation cannot be guaranteed, but that is not possible in China.”