Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Thousands of ethnic Zhuang villagers in Jingxi County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, took to the street to protest over an aluminium plant that they say released sewage that poisoned drinking water in dozens of villages.
On Sunday, several thousand angry Zhuang burst into the plant, smashing equipment at the aluminium plant. On Tuesday, they blocked roads and a railway line, surrounded the county government’s headquarters where they faced off about a thousand riot police.
“The road leading to the County government building, which is several kilometres long, was packed with villagers holding slogans, and armed policemen fired into the air to warn the furious protesters,” said Huang An, a Zhuang from Lingwan village.
The protesters even painted slogans on their clothes.
More than 100 people were injured in the riot and at least 10 vehicles, including a police car and an armoured vehicle, were set on fire by angry villagers in the protest.
The riot continued yesterday morning, with more protesters injured.
“The water is red and heavily polluted by untreated industrial sewage discharged from the plant. We don’t dare drink water from it,” one villager said.
An exceptional drought in the region has further complicated the situation, affecting more than 2.2 million people and 1.1 million head of livestock short of water and 740,000 hectares of farmland too dry to plant.
Jinxi authorities and state news agency Xinhua have a different spin of events. They claim that residents simply opposed the construction of a new road going to the aluminium plant, but did not mention the pollution problem.
A County official confirmed that clashes first broke out when plant workers tried to rebuild a road running close to Lingwan village, which sparked local opposition. This was followed by protests.
However, peaceful demonstrations outside the plant turned into violent clashes when company’s security guards began beating villagers outside the plan.
Making matters worse, homes near plant were suddenly flooded, causing millions of yuan in damages.
The authorities blamed flooding on a minor earthquake, but residents believe the plant sealed off the underground river by mistake after it had tried to flatten a mountain during a construction project.
According to official figures, there were about 87,000 episodes of social unrest in 2008 across China, due to economic factors, pollution, forced seizure of land and houses, unpaid salaries and much more.
Police have often come down on the part of the authorities and business interest, sometimes provoking violent clashes.
More than 96 per cent of people in Jingxi County are Zhuang, one of China’s largest ethnic minorities. Social unrest in this region can easily take on ethnic connotations, as it does in Xinjiang and Tibet.