Thousands of villagers in central China's Henan province face the risk of flooding - thanks to brick kilns that were built illegally on the banks of the Yellow River.
In Yuanyang county, 129 clay brick factories stand next to China's second-longest river, the Beijing-based China Youth Daily reported on Friday.
Factory workers have dug along the anti-flood bank and piled bricks upon it, posing a risk of it failing and flooding seven towns that were similarly overwhelmed in August 1996 after a bank was breached, the report said.
More than 220,000 people live in the seven towns.
Local river protection bureau officials said their requests for the factories to be closed have been ignored.
"Some of our staff have been beaten up two or three times by people from the factories when we tried to convince them to move," Shi Jingwen, an official from the bureau, was quoted as saying by the newspaper. "But our bureau has no power to force them to move."
Shi warned that there would be huge losses if the riverbank was to fail and the towns were to flood.
The Henan provincial government ordered all the brick kilns to close by the end of 2007 and has banned the use of clay bricks since June 2008 because they contribute to the loss of soil and damage to the agriculture industry.
Despite efforts by the provincial and city governments to ban the brick factories, their number has been increasing, not decreasing.
With each brick factory using around 4 hectares of land each year, the 129 factories devour around 530 hectares of land annually, the newspaper said.
A town official surnamed Qiao told Henan TV that local township governments can receive a fee of 100,000 yuan (US$14,700) when a brick factory opens, and 50,000 yuan annually.
"As long as the money is paid, you don't have to worry about inspections from superior government departments. The township government will help settle everything," he told reporters.
Han Zhigang, the former director of a local construction bureau, said only county or township governments have the power to remove the factories.
A manager surnamed Yan said construction of a new bank has been delayed several times because the factories have stood in the way.
(China Daily August 1, 2009)