By NBC News staff and wire reports
QIDONG, China — Angry demonstrators occupied a government office in eastern China on Saturday, destroying computers and overturning cars in a violent protest against an industrial waste pipeline they said would poison their coastal waters.
Hours later, the mayor of the city where the pipeline was to have originated said the project was being cancelled, Reuters reported.
The demonstration was the latest in a string of protests sparked by fears of environmental degradation and highlights the social tensions the government in Beijing faces as it approaches a leadership transition this year.
Thousands of protesters marched through the coastal city of Qidong, roughly one hour north of Shanghai by car, shouting slogans against the planned pipeline that would empty waste from a paper factory in nearby Nantong into the sea.
Demonstrators rejected the government’s stand that waste from the factory would not pollute the coastal waters.
“The government says the waste will not pollute the sea, but if that’s true, then why don’t they dump it into Yangtze River?” said Lu Shuai, a 25-year-old protester who works in logistics.
“It is because if they dump it into the river, it will have an impact on people in Shanghai and people in Shanghai will oppose it.”
The state-run Global Times newspaper quoted local residents who said the sewage discharge from the pipeline was expected to be as much as 150,000 tons per day, according to the AFP news agency.
On Friday, in an effort to stave off the protest, the Qidong city government announced it would suspend the project for further research.
But many protesters said on Saturday that postponement was not enough.
Environmental worries have stoked calls for expanded rights for citizens and greater consultation in the tightly controlled one-party state.
The outpouring of public anger is emblematic of the rising discontent facing Chinese leaders, who are obsessed with maintaining stability and struggling to balance growth with rising public anger over environmental threats.
In Shifang, the government halted construction of a copper refinery following protests by residents that it would poison them. It also freed most of the people who were detained after a clash with police.
The leadership has vowed to clean up China’s skies and waterways and increasingly tried to appear responsive to complaints about pollution. But environmental disputes put citizens against local officials whose aim is to lure fresh investment and revenue into their areas.
28 July 2012