BEIJING – Several thousand people took to the streets of a southern Chinese town on Saturday, some clashing with police, to protest a proposed garbage incinerating plant, participants and eyewitnesses said.
The demonstration in Boluo county, in Guangdong province, was the latest protest highlighting how Chinese have become increasingly wary of the environmental hazards of such projects but still lack public forums to voice their concerns and to affect the government's decision-making process.
"I am worried about the impact it may have on the water source," said a local resident who only gave his family name, Chen, in fear of possible government retaliation. "Burning will definitely cause air pollution. We are concerned about the health of our children."
The demonstration came several months after a massive protest over a proposed waste incinerator in the eastern city of Hangzhou left at least 10 demonstrators and 29 police officers injured in May.
Populous and increasingly affluent Chinese cities are challenged with the daunting task of properly disposing of huge amounts of trash generated by the country's middle class. Experts and government officials believe high-standard incinerators can be a feasible solution to ensure public sanitation.
Yet members of the Chinese public are not ready to accept government proposals for trash incinerators despite repeated assurances that such projects will have minimal environmental impact. Rather, they remain deeply skeptical about their local governments.
Observers have said that a lack of transparency and meaningful public engagement have sowed the distrust.
"There also have been some old scores to settle as the governments have promised the use of some technology, but, as it should turn out, the technology does not get implemented properly in operation," said Wu Yixiu, head of the environmental group Greenpeace's toxics campaign in East Asia.
Some of the demonstrators and eyewitnesses told The Associated Press by phone that Saturday's spontaneous protest in Luoyang, the Boluo county seat, was orderly until police snatched banners from the protesters, dispersed crowds by force and detained some demonstrators. They complained that the government had censored media coverage of the protest and banned those on public payrolls from joining it.
Calls to the local government and police in Boluo rang unanswered.
Photos provided by eyewitnesses and those circulating in China's social media showed protesters holding up banners opposing the incinerator as they marched through Luoyang's streets, despite periodical rain showers.
The protesters said the crowds also shouted slogans such as "Protect the homeland" and "Refuse trash."
Associated Press researcher Henry Hou contributed to this report.