Several hundred people gathered on Kunming's Zhengyi Lu on May 16 to voice their concerns regarding the environmental impact of a proposed factory. The police presence at the gathering was heavy but there were no reports of major clashes or violence.
At issue is the construction of a plant scheduled to be built in conjunction with an enormous Anning (安宁) petrochemical complex. Opposition to the facility centers around the production of paraxylene (PX), a known carcinogen used in the manufacture of polyester fabric and plastic bottles.
The hundreds who turned up to protest the factory are largely concerned with how the plant, if built, would affect air and water quality in Yunnan province's capital city. GoKunming spoke to several people who attended the rally, which began in earnest around 10am.
They reported the event was largely calm with occasional outbursts of pushing and shoving. People carried signs with slogans denouncing the PX plant and many wore protective guaze facemasks emblazoned with the 'No PX' logo.
Walls of police officers cordoned off groups of people from one another and by noon had asked all foreigners to leave. Arrests have been reported in online forums, but those claims remain unverified. At 4pm Kunming vice-mayor He Bo (何波) arrived and began to speak with members of the crowd.
Following the rally the government issued an editorial to Kunming media outlets. The statement alternately described the rally in terms of being "non-productive" while also having contributing to a "frank dialogue". The press release read in part:
The deep concern and enthusiasm of the masses to protect the environment is entirely consistent with the ideas and goals of the party and the government.
A small online survey linked from the editorial shows the majority of respondents are specifically concerned over the proposed plant's pollution levels and generally worried by existing regulatory standards. This is the second rally this month protesting the paraxylene facility. Opposition organization has been largely organic and spread through word of mouth as well as via social networking websites such as Weibo.
Kunming's mayor Li Wenrong (李文荣), who previously expressed a willingness for dialogue on the refinery issue, opened his own Weibo account after the rally. He has so far written only one message, which says he is willing to listen to the people's concerns and suggestions about development in the Spring City.
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