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July 23, 2017

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Tensions mount as police grab chemical plant opponents

NINGBO, China -- Dozens of riot police officers marched toward crowds of people protesting over a chemical factory in an eastern Chinese city and bundled some demonstrators into government offices Sunday, raising tensions a day after clashes between thousands of residents and police.

Several hundred citizens of Ningbo, in Zhejiang province, had gathered outside the offices of the municipal government, shouting for the city's mayor to come out and for the release of people they believed had been detained by police in demonstrations Saturday. The residents were protesting a plan to expand a petrochemical factory because of pollution fears.

"We can only depend on ourselves now, we can't count on the government to think about us," said one protester, a 40-year-old woman surnamed Jing.

Without warning, about 200 officers who had been sitting inside the gate of the city government offices put on their helmets and came out of the compound.

They tore down banners that people had hung up in trees and grabbed at least three protesters, carrying them into the government compound.

The protesters' fairly cheerful mood turned tense and people threw plastic bottles and shouted "Release the people" over and over again.

On Saturday, residents reported that protests involved thousands of people and turned violent after authorities used tear gas and arrested participants. Authorities said "a few" people disrupted public order by staging sit-ins, unfurling banners, distributing fliers and obstructing roads. Authorities said that the proposed project was under evaluation and that the public was being given opportunities to offer its input.

There have been a series of protests in China this year over fears of health risks from industrial projects, as people who have seen their living standards improve become more outspoken against environmentally risky projects in their areas.

A week earlier, hundreds protested for several days in a small town on China's Hainan island over a coal-fired power plant.

Such protests are exactly what the Chinese leadership does not want ahead of next month's once-a-decade transition of power, with stability being paramount.

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