BEIJING • Hundreds of protesters rioted in southern China after weekend demonstrations against a project to build a trash incinerator turned violent, with city government officials saying they had to detain 11 people to restore order.
Decades of breakneck economic growth have led to severe environmental damage in many parts of China, where choking smog often angers increasingly educated and affluent city-dwellers.
Protesters said the demonstrations, which began last Saturday in Yangchun, a city with a population of about a million located in the manufacturing powerhouse of Guangdong, drew hundreds of people agitated over the risk of pollution from the project.
"How will we survive breathing in noxious smoke?" an employee of a small Internet firm told Reuters by telephone yesterday .
"Yesterday night, the police have beaten a lot of people and arrested more," added the woman, who gave only her surname, Mo, for fear of reprisals from the authorities.
Photographs posted online, which cannot be independently verified, showed protesters pinning a police officer to the ground, and flames engulfing an overturned car.
Three vehicles were damaged, the government said.
Some Internet users lashed out at the government for the crackdown on the protests and censoring media reports.
A netizen with the username Li Yunlei said in a post on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like microblog, yesterday: "Local reports on the protests have either been censored or distorted. It's the authories that forced people to rebel."
In an online statement on Sunday, the city government said 11 lawbreakers had been detained, but no one was injured. Police could not be reached for comment.
The brief statement put the finger of blame at "a handful of outlaws" who "caused trouble" under the pretext of opposing the city's "waste-disposal project".
Tension persisted yesterday, with protesters saying hundreds of people were still gathered near the gates of a cement plant that is cooperating with the trash incinerator project.
Every year, China experiences tens of thousands of "mass incidents", an euphemism for protests, triggered by grievances over corruption, pollution and illegal land grabs.
The events are unnerving to the ruling Communist Party, which is obsessed with the need to maintain stability.
A rash of health scares and accidents has also fuelled public scepticism about the safety of industries, ranging from food to energy.