Authorities rescind order to hush protesters

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Shanghai Daily, May 30, 2013
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Bowing to public pressure, authorities in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, have rescinded a directive aimed at curtailing the use of gauze masks, T-shirts and other items bearing slogans protesting the construction of a controversial chemical plant about 32 kilometers from the city.

Authorities rescind order to hush protesters.[File photo]

Authorities rescind order to hush protesters.[File photo] 

The attempted crackdown on those who print and sell the gear came after two street demonstrations this month against China National Petroleum Corp's plans to build a paraxylene plant in the city of Anning. Paraxylene, or PX, is a carcinogenic petrochemical used in the production of polyester.

The protests drew many to the streets, denouncing what they called the environmental and personal health hazards posed by the plant. They wore face masks and T-shirts emblazoned with anti-PX slogans like "Save Kunming," and "Help Us!" according to reports.

On May 20, Kunming authorities, fearful of bad publicity ahead of the June 6-10 hosting of the China-South Asia Expo, issued a directive requiring vendors engaged in advertising, publishing, printing or selling of the masks and T-shirts to sign agreements promising not to spread negative information related to the PX project.

Some residents reported they were asked to produce their identification cards and have the information recorded before making purchases of such clothing, and one store owner said he was told to stop selling all plain white T-shirts, according to Southern Metropolis Daily. Kunming Administration for Industry and Commerce later denied the latter portion of the report, calling it a "rumor."

Whether the government's directive was direct or implied, it stirred a hornet's nest among the public. Blogging sites on the Internet went viral on the issue. Netizens accused the government of trying to "gag protesters" and turning a deaf ear to public concerns.

"The controversy over the PX project does not destroy the image of Kunming," commented the official People's Daily. "But the act of trying to shut people up only deepens the rift between the government and the people."

Those who favor the new plant are no doubt aware of the power ordinary people are exercising over environmentally dubious factories in their backyards.

In 2007, thousands of people in Xiamen, Fujian Province forced a proposed PX plant to be relocated. In 2011, authorities in Dalian City, Liaoning Province, ordered a PX chemical plant shut down after residents took to the streets in protest.

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