Residents protest against power plant in another South China town

Teargas fired at Chinese protesters in Haimen

Chinese riot police break up protest against a planned power station as state media step up the propaganda war

Villages gather to protest in Haimen. Riot police fired teargas in an attempt to end the demonstrations, now running into their fourth day. Photograph: AP

Chinese riot police have fired teargas to break up a protest against a planned power station, while a state TV station showed confessions by two detained activists in an attempt to get other protesters off the streets.

Footage from Hong Kong’s Cable TV showed police firing several rounds of teargas in Haimen town in the southern province of Guangdong, forcing hundreds of people to flee covering their mouths and noses with their hands.

Hours later, a local TV station carried interviews with two detained protesters, a man named Li and a woman, Yung. Sitting behind bars with their heads bowed and handcuffs in full view, the two took turns to confess. “It was wrong to surround the government and block the highway,” Li said, with his eyes lowered.

“I do not know the law. If I knew, I will not block the expressway. If I could have understood this, I wouldn’t have been so brash,” Yung said, her voice shaking.

In an obvious attempt to end the demonstrations now running into their fourth day, the Shantou TV station also lined up several Chinese legal experts and quoted them as saying that such actions carried a maximum penalty of five years in jail, and urging protesters to surrender.

The protests in Haimen, a coastal town of about 120,000 people under the jurisdiction of Shantou city, intensified this week as people in Wukan village, about 80 miles further along the coast, called off a 10-day blockade of their village in protest against what they said was a land grab by officials.

Protests in China have become relatively common over issues such as corruption, pollution, wages, and land grabs that local officials justify in the name of development. People have become increasingly unwilling to accept the relentless speed of urbanisation and industrialisation and the impact on the environment and health.

Chinese experts put the number of “mass incidents”, as such protests are known, at about 90,000 a year in recent years. While Communist party rule is not directly threatened by such incidents of unrest, officials fear they could coalesce into broader, more organised challenges to their power.

Residents of Haimen took to the streets on Tuesday to protest against plans to build a coal-fired power plant after what they complain has been years of air and water pollution from existing power plants in the town.

“Villagers complained that the current power plant had led to a rise in the number of cancer patients, the deterioration of the environment, and a drop in fishing hauls,” state Xinhua news agency reported on Friday. “The Shantou city government announced Tuesday evening, shortly after the protest, that the project would be suspended. Some village residents said that they knew nothing about the announcement, while others said they had no trust in the suspension decision.”

Hong Kong newspapers reported earlier that the villagers wanted the project to be scrapped altogether and have pledged to keep up their action if police did not release detained protesters. China’s state news agency, Xinhua, had reported that police had detained five people for vandalism on Wednesday evening.

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