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Guangzhou: Violent New Year clashes in protest against power station

Fri, 2 Jan 2009.
Massive police presence used to break-up peaceful residents’ protests (photos)

[print_link]The final days of 2008 saw large scale protests and clashes with police in the Junjing Garden Residential Quarter of Guangzhou. Jungjing is in the Tianhe district of Guangzhou (Canton), the provincial capital of Guangdong and China’s third largest city. On New Years’ Eve, more than two thousand local residents gathered in the streets, defying a heavy police presence, as part of their struggle to prevent the construction of a high-voltage electrical transformer substation. Residents in Jungjin, mostly middle-class homeowners, have been opposing the substation project since 2006. Local authorities dispatched a large number of riot police into the area on Tuesday night, leading to clashes with residents and about 10 arrests. None of Guangzhou’s local media – considered to be among the most liberal in China – reported on the incident or the ongoing protest campaign by local residents, which is featured informally on the website Hong Kong media have, however, covered the story.

According to residents, Junjing Garden is among the top ten residential districts in Guangzhou, with a current population of about 40,000. Construction rules for high-voltage substations stipulate that these must be at least 10 meters from residential buildings and over 50 meters from schools. Residents say the substation will emit strong electromagnetic radiation that would cause significant harm to human health. This in turn will have an adverse effect on property values in the area at a time when house prices anyway are falling sharply. Therefore, residents have opposed the construction of the substation and have been lobbying the local government, carrying out a variety of protest actions and publicising their protests online. In 2006, these protests succeeded in blocking the planned construction. However, in early December, the China Southern Power Grid restarted construction on the project. On 13 December local residents staged demonstrations and attempted to occupy the construction site. On 30 December, the power company showed its intention to continue construction, forcibly, in defiance of the protests. Hundreds of police with anti-riot equipment, police dogs and high-powered cameras, were deployed by local government in an obviously well prepared action. Residents complain of extremely brutal police methods, blocked roads into and out of the district, and assaults on residents. Defended by a massive police presence, construction work commenced on Wednesday morning, New Years’ Eve.

“Down with fascism”

That evening, 31 December, about two thousand people took to the streets, with some shouting “Down with the Communist Party”, “Down with fascism” and “Down with Japanese devils,” “go back to Japan” – aimed at the police [this insult originates from the Japanese occupation in 1930s-40s]. The local government reportedly sent out thousands of riot police and forcibly dispersed the protests, confiscating petition banners [banners upon which more than 10,000 people had signed their names in opposition to the substation], and arrested 20 people. To our knowledge at least ten of these are still in detention. Witnesses at the scene on 1 January say the police action has become more and more repressive. One resident wrote on a blog that: “The scene at that time produced a very chilling feeling. Fire engines, ambulances, police cars, hundreds of police, riot shields, black batons, dogs, against unarmed local residents. There is a feeling, the feeling of being raped and humiliated.”

More protests in China
Submitted by Django on Jan 4 2009

There have been further protests by workers in China as the economic crisis prompts attacks on conditions, jobs and pay.

On December 28th ground crew at Hong Kong’s international airport walked out in a three-hour protest against cuts to announced bonus payments, grounding flights. The 1,000 workers were employed by Hong Kong Airport Services Ltd. The economic crisis was cited as the reason for the attampted clawbacks by company bosses.

Riot police monitored a protest outside a textile factory in Humen town, Dongguan, on the 29th of December. The protest followed a chef in the factory canteen being “worked to death” after being on shift for 10 days straight.

His family and co-workers objected to the pitiful compensation payment offered by factory bosses and the department of labour, and organised the demonstration. Despite the riot police arriving, the local police attempted to play down the size of the protest in the media, adding nonetheless that “In an economic crisis, such cases happens frequently.”

Dongguan saw more protests earlier in December, after workers at the Jianrong Suitcase Factory took to the streets demanding payment of wages after the factory owner shut the factory and fled, an increasingly common event in the city. The workers, who live in dorms inside the factory site, refused to leave after the government offered only 60% of what they were owed. The compound was surrounded by riot police, who attacked the workers when they left the site to protest on the streets. Nonetheless, they managed to resist attempts by riot police to take the site, and saw off an undercover policeman who infiltrated the dormitories. According to an Associated Press report, one worker, called Yang, asked “We work so hard in this factory and then we get beaten by the police. What kind of system is this?” Worn out by the siege, the workers have now left the site.

Dongguan has been rocked by protests as the economic crisis hits its export-led manufacturing industry, and workers attempt to defend themselves against pay cuts, layoffs and the effects of factory owners cutting and running

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