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New protests against development break out in southern China

December 20, 2011 | 11:51 am

Residents protested against development plans in yet another town in Guangdong province in southern China
REPORTING FROM SHENZHEN, CHINA -- Residents protested Tuesday against development plans in yet another town in Guangdong province, intensifying the challenge to the Communist Party in China's most affluent and open-minded region.

The newest uprising involved as many as 30,000 people protesting plans for a coal-fired power plant in the seaside town of Haimen. Residents stormed local government offices and blocked a busy highway that runs from the manufacturing hub of Shenzhen to the city of Shantou.

Although organizers denied there was any copycat effect from protests in Wukan, a village 70 miles away where residents booted out local government two weeks ago, the similarities were striking enough to be unnerving to a Chinese government that values stability above all.

Protesters say that riot police reacted harshly to the Haimen uprising, beating protesters and firing tear gas into the crowd. There were unconfirmed reports that a 15-year-old boy had been killed and dozens of other people badly beaten.

"The guy was lying on the ground and not moving after scuffling with the police," Lin Zutao, a 25-year-old protester, said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

The demonstration started peacefully, but it grew more chaotic as some protesters moved on to block the highway and threw bottles at the cordons of police.

The catalyst for the demonstration was a plan by local government to build a second coal-fired power plant despite environmental problems caused by a plant that began operations in 2008. Residents blame the plant for destroying the area's fishing industry and contributing to a rise in cancer rates.

"The pollution is so bad, we have no way to live here," Lin said, emphasizing that there was no relationship between what was happening in his town and Wukan.

In Wukan, a village of 20,000, residents were enraged that the local government confiscated farmland for a Hong Kong real estate developer. They in effect forced local officials to flee the village and set up barricades at the entrance to keep out authorities.

The dispute escalated after a popular villager named to negotiate with authorities was arrested and died in custody, apparently beaten to death –- although the government said he had a heart attack.

Nearly two weeks after the death, authorities had yet to return the body of 42-year-old Xue Jinbo on Tuesday. Villagers were planning to hold a march Wednesday to demand that the body be released for an independent autopsy and burial, though negotiations between protesters and authorities continued late Tuesday.

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-- Barbara Demick

Photo: Residents block a highway Tuesday as they protest plans for a coal-fired power plant in the southern China town of Haimen. Credit: STR / AFP/Getty Images

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