QIDONG, China, July 28: Thousands of people demonstrating against alleged pollution from a paper factory in east China clashed with police Saturday, the latest in a series of environmental protests.
The protestors overturned two cars and invaded the local government offices in the coastal city of Qidong, near Shanghai, an AFP photographer said.
Demonstrators seized bottles of liquor and wine from the offices along with cartons of cigarettes, items which Chinese officials frequently receive as bribes.
A photograph posted on Sina Weibo, the main Chinese microblogging service, showed some of the items displayed outside the government building.
Thousands of people had gathered in a square in front of the offices and in adjacent streets Saturday morning, with armed police arriving at the scene at 9:00 am.
Following the clashes, the local police said in their microblog that the pipeline from the paper mill, which belongs to Japanese company Oji Paper, would be "permanently closed" and called on the demonstrators to go home.
Oji Paper however denied that its plant was causing pollution and said closing the 110 kilometre (70-mile) pipeline would not affect operations at the plant, located in Nantong, Jiji Press news agency reported.
"We don´t release ´polluted water´ as we are currently releasing water after purification that meets the local environmental standards," Jiji quoted a company public relations official as saying.
Protests against environmental degradation have increased in China, where three decades of rapid and unfettered industrial expansion have taken their toll.
The sewage pipe from the paper mill discharges into the sea in the port of Lusi, one of four fishing harbours in Qidong, one protestor, who for safety reasons only gave her name as Qin, told AFP.
Discharges were set to climb to 150,000 tonnes of sewage a day when the mill was fully operational, according to residents quoted Friday by the state-run Global Times newspaper. Construction on the mill started in 2007.
Qin said there were 50,000 demonstrators, while a microblogger using the name Qidong Longhuisheng estimated numbers at 100,000.
"There are people everywhere, on walls, cars, rooftops, in streets," said another microblog user writing under the name Jiaojiaotaotailang, adding that "the air is filled with the smell of alcohol, and there are sounds of breaking glass".
Searches including "Qidong" were blocked Saturday on Sina Weibo, which has more than 250 million subscribers.
The move to close the paper mill´s sewage pipeline comes after Chinese authorities this month scrapped plans to build a $1.6 billion metals plant in the southwest province of Sichuan following violent protests by local residents concerned about the planned factory´s environmental impact.
Similar incidents are reported regularly around China, many over environmental concerns that locals say are linked to corruption, but authorities typically quash the protests and push ahead with the projects.
The Chinese government warned Friday that security would be tightened throughout the country ahead of a major Communist Party Congress this autumn, which should see a new generation of leaders take over the reins of power.