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Zhejiang Chemical Plan Scrapped After Fierce Protests

A chemical disposal initiative in a pharmaceutical plant finally came to an end on Thursday as a result of successive protests by local farmers.

Farmers protested against the disposal facility saying that the chemical waste would ruin both their crops and health.

The Jingxin Pharmaceutical plant between Xinchang County and Shengzhou City, under the administration of Shaoxing City, in east China's Zhejiang Province has been blamed for releasing polluted water into the Xinchang River, polluting the environment and affecting the production and health of locals.

Zhang Miaohuan, head of the committee of Huangniqiao Village, a severely polluted area in Shengzhou, said about 50 villagers marched to the plant on July 4, demanding compensation for ruined crops and free medical check-ups. Local government officials rushed to the scene when tensions between angry farmers and plant representatives escalated, Zhang added.

After the July 4 incident, the local Xinchang County government promptly ordered the plant to suspend its production until the dispute had been properly settled.

The local authorities then decided to dispose some 1,000 tons of chemicals between July 15 and 22 that were already in the plant and were growing dangerously unstable in the summer heat. The neighboring farmers were formally informed of the disposal.

More than 200 villagers again protested last Friday morning when the disposal process was started up. They tried to storm the disposal facility and some agitated farmers threw stones at police guarding the plant.

More than 200 villagers clashed with police at a sentry post near the plant on Sunday evening, drawing thousands of onlookers. Police, with reinforcements, eventually managed to control the situation by using tear gas.

No new protest or clash has been reported so far.

Senior officials from Shaoxing met with locals to explain why the dangerous chemicals had to be disposed of in their "backyards". The meeting seemed to ease tensions somewhat, and the chemical disposal process was completed at 7:30 AM on Thursday.

The pharmaceutical industry used to be the pillar industry for Xinchang's economic development. Some pharmaceutical companies are built next to the Xinchang River, into which chemical waste is conveniently dumped.

Water quality of the river has deteriorated and this has angered locals, especially the Shengzhou people who live in the lower reaches of the river.

A manager with Jingxin, speaking on condition of anonymity, said this summer's scorching temperature and slowing currents have made pollution a more striking problem.

The county authority acknowledged that the Xinchang River is severely polluted and has committed itself to tackling the problem by adopting several measures, including the removal of three chemical plants.

Jingxin is on the list.

Cai Yongbo, deputy secretary of the Xinchang County Party committee, said: "Reform in industrial structure cannot be accomplished in a single action. We are in dire need of the understanding and support of the general public in this long-term initiative."

In August 2004, the Xinchang and Shengzhou authorities jointly launched a program to build a sewage treatment plant, which is expected to be put into operation by the end of next year and, it is hoped, would improve the water quality in the Xinchang River.

(Xinhua News Agency July 22, 2005)

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