BEIJING (AP) — Riot police in a southern Chinese coastal town fired tear gas at protesters Friday on the fourth day of unrest over a planned power plant expansion, according to a demonstrator's account and TV footage.
A crowd of protesters were locked in a standoff with police near the entrance to a highway in the town of Haimen, demanding authorities release an unknown number of demonstrators, a man surnamed Lin told The Associated Press.
Police fired tear gas at the protesters, who were gathered quietly a few hundred yards (meters) from the highway entrance, Lin said.
"When they saw that more and more people had come to protest, they fired the tear gas to try to chase us away. At the same time, a big gust of wind blew toward us, so we all had to run," Lin said. "My tears ran continuously. Our eyes are all red."
This is the third time police have used tear gas to disperse protesters in Haimen this week.
"We have no weapons at all. All we are doing is standing here and protesting," Lin added.
Hong Kong's Cable TV showed footage of tear gas clouds being blown toward protesters, scattering the crowd of hundreds of people. Riot police with helmets and shields had formed a blockade at the entrance to the highway.
Police have detained five people for vandalism during the protests, the official Xinhua News Agency said Thursday.
The protesters think an existing coal-fired power plant has contributed to what they say is a rise in cancer cases and heavy pollution in the seas, a serious problem for a town where fishing is a source of livelihood.
In response to the protests, the local government said Tuesday it would temporarily suspend the power plant project, Xinhua said.
But protesters say they have not heard directly from authorities on the matter. They were also angered by rumors that one or two young protesters had died in clashes with police, but Xinhua cited a local Communist Party official as saying that no deaths had occurred.
After three decades of laxly regulated industrialization, China is seeing a surge in protests over such environmental worries.