Villagers in the southern Chinese island province of Hainan clashed with police again amid long-running protests over the construction of a coal-fired power plant in their hometown.
Dozens of injuries from beatings and tear gas at the hands of riot police were reported as mass demonstrations entered their third day on Thursday.
Residents of Ledong county’s Yinggehai village said police had set up checkpoints at all entry points to the village following clashes between thousands of local residents and armed police on Wednesday.
“No one is being allowed to enter the village, and all the nearby roads are blocked,” said a Yinggehai resident surnamed Liao. “There are armed police everywhere.”
He said that more than 60 government and police vehicles had arrived in the village early on Thursday morning.
“Most of them are on the main road,” Liao said. “The authorities have sent more armed police in as reinforcements.”
Liao said some villagers had come out onto the streets in protest again on Thursday, only to be met with further beatings and tear-gas canisters.
“We banded together and went to leave the village and head for the main road to go and complain at the township government,” Liao said.
“As soon as we got to the main road we were beaten up by the armed police.”
“They shouted to us that if we went up there, they would beat us to death. They [fired tear gas] as soon as the villagers got anywhere near them—five or six canisters of it,” he said.
“There was smoke everywhere; it gets up your nose. We couldn’t see where we were going, and we were forced to retreat.”
Some critically injured
A second villager surnamed Xing said six villagers were taken to hospital after Thursday’s standoff. He said a total of 60 villagers were now in hospital following this week’s clashes.
“Some of the injured were taken to the clinic, while the more seriously injured were taken to the county People’s Hospital for emergency treatment,” Xing said.”
“A lot of people are still there, and some are in a critical condition.”
He said that authorities had detained 17 people in connection with the protests, but that their relatives had yet to receive any formal notification.
“We don’t yet know where they are being held,” Xing said.
An officer who answered the phone at the Yinggehai police station declined to comment.
“If you want to report on this, you must first get in touch with the relevant departments,” the officer said. “You can’t come here until you have had the correct approval.”
Calls to the Yinggehai township government, the township police department, and the Ledong county government offices went unanswered or returned a busy signal during office hours on Thursday.
Wednesday’s violent clashes were sparked after the authorities arrested a number of villagers during a demonstration over an official announcement that construction of the planned coal-fired power station would proceed according to plan, Liao said.
“The villagers came out in protest to block [the construction site] and a very large number of people got hurt,” he said. “Then the riot police fired tear gas at the villagers, who were totally unarmed.”
“Some of [the injured] were children and elderly people,” Liao said. “Some were beaten by the riot police, and some were hurt by the tear gas.”
“One tear-gas canister landed inside the courtyard of a nearby kindergarten.”
A third villager who declined to be named said the worst violence had happened during Wednesday’s clashes, although the standoff had begun on Tuesday.
“On Tuesday they beat up about 100 people, but on Wednesday they beat up more than 1,000,” he said.
Villagers fear that sea pollution caused by the planned 1.9 billion yuan (U.S. $301 million) Yinggehai coal-fired power plant will wipe out their fishing businesses and farmland.
The plans were initially proposed in 2007, but didn’t receive approval from the National Resources Bureau in Beijing until last November.
They were opposed by more than 8,000 local residents during a groundbreaking consultation exercise carried out by China Power’s Hainan division in January.