HONG KONG - Hundreds in China's southern city of Guangzhou protested outside government offices on Monday, opposing plans for a large garbage incinerator in a sign of the region's rising public assertiveness over green issues.
Local television showed crowds of agitated villagers shouting slogans and waving banners decrying the garbage incinerator while demanding the resignation of the city's deputy general secretary, Lu Zhiyi. Many wore facial masks as a symbol of opposition, while closely watched by large numbers of police officers.
We are here today to ask for transparency in policy decisions, said Lu, a local resident at the protest, who was angered not only by the health risks but the government's hard stance in trying to bulldoze through the project.
Guangzhou, like the adjoining Pearl River Delta has suffered serious environmental degradation after nearly three decades of breakneck development. Environmental activism, however, has grown in recent years with a maturing of civil society and as burgeoning middle classes pursue a higher quality of life.
In a recent case, a proposed multi-billion dollar oil refinery in the ecologically rich Nansha district just downstream from Guangzhou along the Pearl River, was relocated to a less populated area in western Guangdong after a major public uproar.
The government (in Guangdong) is facing more and more of these challenges, of people asking 'why must you build here?', a 'not in my backyard' reaction, said Edward Chan, campaign manager for Greenpeace China.
The government must fully consult all the stakeholders to minimize potential conflict, he added, noting the need for a more comprehensive waste management strategy for the region, where contaminated drinking water from industrial effluent has given rise to a host of cancer villages.
Despite widespread opposition to the Panyu incinerator, officials stressed at a meeting on Sunday that the waste incinerator was still the preferred option for dealing with the escalating waste demands of Panyu's 2.5 million residents.
Guangzhou officials, however, say no decision will be taken before an environmental assessment of the project is approved.
Wen Yunchao, a prominent mainland blogger and rights activist, said the Panyu waste incineration plant, which will handle 2,000 tonnes of trash a day, might endanger the health of residents like another incinerator built near Guangzhou's Likeng village in 2005 that churned out carcinogenic dioxins.
The residents don't trust the government's guarantees after reports revealed that the incidence of cancer had risen dramatically in Likeng, Wen told Reuters by telephone.
Nearly 92 percent of residents believe the project will seriously harm their health and the environment, while more than 97 percent oppose construction of the plant, according a public opinion poll by the provincial social research and study center in Guangdong province, China's manufacturing heartland.
(Additional reporting by Yu Le; Editing by Bill Tarrant)