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Protest in China prompts chemical plant shutdown

By Steven Jiang and Haolan Hong, CNN
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China bows to chemical plant protesters
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Protesters demanded the relocation of Fujia Dahua Petrochemical Company
  • The plant threatened to spill toxins into the city after a typhoon breached a dike nearby
  • Censors removed almost all photos and videos of Sunday's demonstration from social media
  • By Monday headlines about Fujia had largely disappeared from national news media

Beijing (CNN) -- Chinese authorities have ordered a controversial chemical plant in the country's northeast to shut down and tightened their grip over news coverage on a large protest that prompted the unusual decision.

Tens of thousands of residents in Dalian took to the streets Sunday and rallied around the city hall. They demanded the relocation of Fujia Dahua Petrochemical Company, which threatened to spill toxins into the city last week when a typhoon breached a dike nearby, a protester told CNN Monday.

Chanting "Fujia get out" in front of hundreds of riot police guarding the government office, the crowds grew steadily throughout the day and minor scuffles took place, said the protester, a young doctor who asked her name not be printed for fear of government reprisal.

"The plant is endangering our lives," she said. "If chemicals spill out we -- but especially the children -- will all be affected. If our children's health is harmed, who will claim responsibility?"

After an earlier pledge by officials to move the company out of the city failed to appease the protesters, the local government told state media Sunday afternoon that it would close the plant immediately. Fujia produces paraxylene (PX), a reportedly carcinogenic chemical used in the production of polyester films and fabrics.

If our children's health is harmed, who will claim responsibility?
--Protester
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  • China

An official with Dalian's municipal information office later confirmed the government decision to CNN but declined to comment on the protest.

By Monday headlines on Fujia had largely disappeared from national news media, most of which did not cover the protest.

On Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter, censors removed almost all photos and videos of Sunday's demonstration, and prevented users from posting messages containing terms such as "Dalian" and "PX."

Although most protesters dispersed Sunday night, many remain skeptical of the authorities' willingness to keep their promise. The local government owns a major stake in the two-year-old PX plant, one of China's largest, representing an investment of $1.5 billion, according to state media reports.

The company made news last week when Typhoon Muifa damaged a dike guarding the plant. National broadcaster CCTV said Fujia employees beat its journalists as they tried to film the plant and investigate a potential chemical leak.

"The PX plant has very close ties to the government, and I don't believe an oral pledge is going to be enough to push them out," the protesting doctor said.

"Also, it's a big chemical plant that cannot be relocated within a short period of time. Before it moves, what should we Dalian residents do?"

The protest in Dalian is the latest example of China's urban middle class -- long considered the main beneficiaries of the government's economic reforms -- banding together, often via the internet, to defend their rights.

In 2007, residents in the southeastern city of Xiamen marched against a local PX plant, which eventually moved out of the city.

In 2008, residents in Shanghai worried about radiation risks took to the streets to protest the construction of a high-speed rail line using the magnetic levitation technology, forcing the government to suspend the project indefinitely.

 
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