Protesters block a highway demanding the removal of a coal-fired plant from Haimen in south China  on December 20, 2011.

Story highlights

Tear gas was used to disperse a large crowd of people, a witness says

Some protesters were beaten, according to witness

"The government ... handled the protest appropriately," a local official says

The protesters are concerned about pollution caused by the plant's emissions

Beijing CNN  — 

Demonstrators faced tear gas and a heavy police presence as they gathered for a third straight day to protest a coal power plant in southern China.

One witness, who wanted to be identified only as Zheng, reported seeing police beat some of the protesters, and ambulances carried the injured away.

The conditions of those people were not known.

The crowd was protesting the pollution produced by the plant in Haimen, on the country’s southern coast.

Most of the residents there make a living by fishing. They complain that the water has been heavily polluted by emissions from the plant, which is owned by Huaneng Group, China’s largest electricity generating company, according to state media. The protesters also say the plant’s waste has affected their health, according to Zheng.

“We want to protect our homeland.” Zheng said.

The protests began Tuesday morning when a group of residents went to the local government with a petition asking for the removal of the power plant and to stop the construction of a second.

When they did not get a response, they gathered on a street outside the government building. Some people were beaten.

A local government official in Shantou, who did not want to be named, confirmed the demonstration and said that authorities responded after traffic was cut off to the expressway. Photos from the protest show police in full riot gear lined up on the road.

“The government has suspended the second power plant project and handled the protest appropriately,” the official said.

After the protest, the word “Haimen” was censored on China’s equivalent of Twitter. A search for the Chinese character “Haimen” yielded this result: “According to relevant laws, regulations and policies, the search result of Haimen cannot be displayed.”

Protests have been on the rise in China, where public displays of dissatisfaction are typically rare. The protests are driven by socioeconomic issues like income inequality, corruption, pollution and inflation, according to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.