China protest city wary of chemical plant victory

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Residents are seen gathering outside the city government offices in Ningbo, in eastern China's Zhejiang province

Residents are seen gathering outside the city government offices in Ningbo, in eastern China's Zhejiang province on October 29, as police and security personnel look on. Authorities in Ningbo said late Sunday that work on the 55.9-billion-yuan ($8.9 bln) oil refining and petrochemical complex would be called off after thousands of locals clashed with police in a week-long protest.

Residents of an eastern Chinese city who have been protesting over a new chemical plant reacted warily on Monday to news the project would be halted, with some continuing to demonstrate.

Authorities in Ningbo city said late Sunday that work on the 55.9-billion-yuan ($8.9-billion) oil refining and petrochemical complex would be called off after thousands of locals clashed with police in a week-long protest.

The demonstrations and apparent victory of local residents is the latest example of environmental activism stemming from public anger over pollution wrought by decades of rapid development.

Outside the Ningbo city government offices on Monday, police sought to disperse a crowd of people still massing outside, though the gathering was peaceful, an AFP journalist, who was briefly detained by police, witnessed.

Despite the government promise to halt the new plant by Chinese petrochemicals giant Sinopec, some Ningbo residents said they feared the city could later revive the project.

"Unfortunately, it is perhaps just a stalling tactic... the government felt pressure and was eager to wind this matter up, so there's no victory for us," said Sha Shi Di Sao Zi on a microblog.

The protests came ahead of a once-in-a-decade Communist Party congress starting November 8 at which new leaders will be selected. Ahead of the delicate handover, authorities are keen to present a show of harmony.

Some Internet users portrayed the stand-off in Ningbo as a victory reflecting growing environmental awareness among Chinese people.

"Mighty Ningbo people! Congratulations on your victory!" said one who gave the name Grail Tao Daowei in a microblog posting.

An editorial in the state-run China Daily newspaper on Monday said a rising number of environmental-related protests showed the "obsession" of local officials with economic development.

"Too many local governments are still preoccupied with gross domestic product," it said.

"Some local leaders still need to acquaint themselves with the notion that residents' rights to a healthy environment must be adequately respected."

Ningbo's Zhenhai district -- the proposed site for the factory -- said Sunday it would "ban" production of paraxylene (PX), a petrochemical used for plastic bottles, which had been the focus of residents' health fears.

Earlier this year in the southwestern province of Sichuan, hundreds of protesters clashed with police over a planned metals plant in Shifang city. They forced the project to be scrapped.