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China City to Probe ‘Criminals’ in Chemical Plant Protest Clash

China’s southern city of Maoming pledged to “seriously investigate” demonstrators who it said broke the law during protests against a proposed chemical plant.

The police urged people who it said had damaged public infrastructure and disturbed public order to turn themselves in, a notice on the official news website of the city said late yesterday. It also called on all Maoming residents to provide information on activities that violated the law, it said.

More than 1,000 people took to the streets in Maoming last weekend to protest the planned construction of a chemical plant, the latest in a series of protests targeting such facilities that have broken out in cities across the country since 2007. In the evening on March 30, a few people threw stones and water bottles that damaged public facilities, the local government said a day later.

“Public security organs seriously warn these unlawful elements: we will seriously investigate according to law the legal responsibilities of the criminals,” yesterday’s notice said. The police will “firmly maintain social stability,” the statement said.

Hundreds of protesters demonstrated in the provincial capital of Guangzhou yesterday, calling for details on alleged injuries in Maoming, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement today. Photos posted online by people who said they were of the weekend Maoming protests showed an overturned car and people raising their fists in the air. Others appeared to show people lying injured on the ground and covered in blood.

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The Maoming protesters also broke the law because they did not apply for permission to hold the demonstration, the local government said on its official Weibo account March 31.

Yesterday the city’s deputy mayor met a representative of residents to discuss the protests, a separate report in the Maoming News said. The chemical project is still far from being started, and the city will make a decision on whether to go ahead with the project after soliciting public feedback through various channels, he told them, according to the report.

Demonstrators are opposed to the plan to build a paraxylene, or PX, plant by the local government and Sinopec Maoming Co., a unit of state-owned China Petrochemical Corp., known as Sinopec Group. PX is a building block of plastics and synthetic fibers. The protest is the latest in a string of such activities following protests in the coastal city of Xiamen against a PX project in 2007.

The Chinese government should impartially investigate apparent excessive use of force by the police against the protesters, Human Rights Watch said in a statement today. The police response to the demonstrations resulted in dozens of casualties, it said.

“Premier Li Keqiang has pledged to launch a ‘war on pollution,’ ” Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch said. “Yet when citizens demonstrate their concerns for the environment, they appear to be in harm’s way.”

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