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Chemical plant furore in China

A damaged dyke, built
to protect the Fujia chemical
plant, is seen after the storm
that battered the port city of
Dalian last week
Beijing, China — ESI-AFRICA.COM — 15 August 2011 – Authorities in northeastern China have ordered a petrochemical plant to be shut down immediately after thousands of people demonstrated, demanding the relocation of the factory at the centre of a toxic spill scare.

Demonstrators in the port city of Dalian, in Liaoning province, faced a wall of riot police in front of the municipal government office, according to eyewitness accounts. Minor scuffles broke out, although there was no report of injuries among the 12,000 protesters, state news agency Xinhua said.

The authorities also pledged to relocate the Fujia chemical plant, Xinhua said, citing a statement from the municipal committee of the Communist Party and the government. The report did not say where the plant was likely to move.

After the announcement, some of the protesters were seen leaving a packed public square in front of the city government offices and main urban streets, Xinhua said.

State media said last week that residents in Dalian had been forced to flee when a storm battering the northeast Chinese coast whipped up waves that burst through a dyke protecting the Fujia plant, which makes paraxylene (PX), a toxic petrochemical used in polyester. .

Although authorities repaired the dyke and insisted that no spills had been detected, the incident sparked panic that PX could have been released, fuelling resentment against the project. Calls on popular micro-blogging site Weibo and QQ, an instant messaging system, urged residents to protest.

The outpouring of public anger is emblematic of the rising discontent facing Chinese leaders, who are obsessed with maintaining stability and struggling to balance growth with growing public anger over environmental threats and safety concerns, especially in the aftermath of the deadly high-speed train crash in late July that killed 40 people, and the Fukushima nuclear crisis in Japan in March..

In a rare concession, Dalian’s Communist Party chief Tang Jun and mayor Li Wancai tried to appease the crowd by promising to move the polluting project out of the city, Xinhua said.