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China: Factory shuts after hundreds protest over pollution

Hundreds of villagers staged demonstrations against a solar panel company in eastern China, saying that its factory was polluting the local environment.

A FACTORY IN eastern China has been temporarily closed following three days of protests by local residents who believe that the plant is causing pollution.

As many as 500 residents protested outside the solar panel factory in Haining, Zhejiang province since last week. Riot police were called in after some demonstrators smashed windows, stormed the building and company overturned vehicles, reports Time.

Local residents were angry following the deaths of a large number of fish in the city’s river; tests confirmed the river water contained dangerously high levels of fluoride, the BBC reports.

Police detained least 20 people a during the protest, which is the latest among increasingly bold public protests driven by environmental concerns in the country.

The factory, Zhejiang Jinko Solar Co Ltd, was ordered to halt production lines emitting toxic gases or waste pending an investigation, the Haining government said in a statement.

It ordered strict enforcement of environmental protection measures, but also “absolute efforts to ensure stability.”

Zhejiang Jinko Solar Co is a subsidiary of a New York Stock Exchange-listed company, JinkoSolar Holding Co. The company has not issued any public response to the protests.

According to the Haining city government, Zhejiang Jinko Solar’s chairman, Li Xianhua, met with village representatives earlier this month, but the villagers were dissatisfied with the company’s response.

Zhejiang Jinko Solar’s waste disposal has been failing pollution tests since April and despite being warned by authorities, the plant has not effectively controlled the pollution, the official Xinhua News Agency cited Chen Hongming, deputy head of Haining’s environmental protection bureau, as saying.

A 64-year-old Hongxiao villager surnamed Shi said not only does the factory discharge waste water into a river, it also spews dense smoke out of a dozen chimneys.

“An elementary school and a kindergarten are located less than a kilometre from the plant. My house is only about 500 metres from the plant. Many fish died after the factory discharged waste into a small river,” Shi said in a phone interview.

“The villagers strongly request that this factory be moved to another area. I am very worried about the health of the younger generation,” he said.

After three decades of laxly regulated industrialization, China is seeing a surge in protests over such environmental worries.

Last month, 12,000 residents in the northeastern port city of Dalian protested against a chemical plant after waves from a tropical storm broke a dike guarding the plant and raised fears that flood waters could release toxic chemicals. The massive protests prompted the deployment of riot police and a pledge by local officials to relocate the plant. A similar protest in 2007 in Xiamen was also successful.

Similarly, a spate of cases of lead poisoning from production and recycling of lead-acid batteries for electric bicycles and cars has prompted scores of protests around the country, and a crackdown on hundreds of factories caught violating environmental regulations.

“The public is increasingly adopting a zero tolerance attitude against pollution,” the state-run newspaper Global Times said in a commentary published Monday.

But while protests in middle-class cities like Dalian and Xiamen have succeeded, the government rarely gives in and demonstrations in rural villages don’t often work.

Additional reporting by the AP

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