Protest-hit China city says no plant without public support

BEIJING (REUTERS) - A city in southern China which has been the site of violent protests against a proposed chemical plant said it will not go ahead with the project if a majority of residents object to it, as authorities seek to head off more unrest.

Photos posted on Weibo, China's Twitter-like microblog service, have showed hundreds of demonstrators marching along the streets over the past two days, an overturned car in flames and protesters laying bloodied on the road.

Others have showed lines of paramilitary police marching in formation.

In a statement posted late on Monday on its official Weibo account, the government of Maoming, in the wealthy coastal province of Guangdong, said the project was still far from being approved.

"If the majority of people are against it, the city government won't make a decision contrary to public opinion," it said. "Would the majority of residents rationally express their opinions to jointly maintain social stability."

The city has previously called the protests a "grave violation" by criminals causing chaos.

The images of violence - which could not be independently verified by Reuters - have caused an outcry on Chinese social media, though many were later removed from the site by censors.

Maoming residents have been protesting the production of paraxylene, a chemical used to make fabrics and plastic bottles at a plant run by the local government and state-owned Sinopec Corp, China's biggest refiner.

The government has not announced any casualties from the demonstrations.

The Global Times, a popular tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily, said protests continued on Monday, and that police had used tear gas to disperse them.

It added in an editorial on Tuesday that the government had to break the "vicious spiral" of public opposition to PX plants, which were needed to lessen Chinese reliance on imports.

"The approval and initiation of a PX plant must be transparent," the editorial said.

"Local governments should not rescind chemical programmes once there is opposition or sabotage to the rule of law. They instead need to shoulder the national interest, leading the public to change their irrational attitude."

The eastern city of Ningbo suspended a petrochemical project after days of demonstrations in November 2012, and protests forced the suspension of a paraxylene plant in the northeastern city of Dalian the year before. A similar demonstration took place in the southern city of Kunming last year.

Choking smog blankets many Chinese cities, and environmental degradation, the cost of the country's breakneck economic growth, has earned the ire of an increasingly educated and affluent urban class.

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