BEIJING — Riot police have crushed a three-week-long protest against toxic waste from a chemical refinery complex in China’s Inner Mongolia region, according to local villagers and the government.
It was the latest in a series of demonstrations about pollution on the country’s northern grasslands.
A protester named Geegee, posting on social media, said one demonstrator died in a hospital, 100 were injured by baton-wielding officers and 50 were arrested over the weekend. The government announced Monday that it was closing the chemical complex.
“Rubber bullets are being shot at protesters, and high-pressure water guns and tear gas are also being used,” Geegee told the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC), an exile group advocating for the rights of the region’s ethnic Mongol minority. Many ethnic Mongols use only one name.
“We are not terrorists, we are not separatists, we are only doing this for the sake of this land!” she posted Monday. “Is that a crime?”
Tensions have been rising in Inner Mongolia in recent months, as herders protest pollution and land grabs by mining and mineral resources industries, the mainstay of the region’s economy. Herders say that their grasslands and livestock have been poisoned and that little compensation has been paid for losses and land seizures.
Villagers said more than 2,000 riot police officers were deployed over the weekend near Daqintala village in Naiman county in the eastern part of Inner Mongolia, to break up a protest involving about 1,000 locals over pollution originating from the Naiman Chemical Refinery Zone.
The county government said on its social media account that villagers surrounded the entrance to the industrial park starting March 20, stopped staff members from entering, and hung up banners and posters.
On March 29, the government issued a notice saying it would respond to the villagers’ demands, carry out environmental testing and stop the companies from operating until the villagers were satisfied. However, on Saturday afternoon, people blocking the industrial park were “cleared up forcibly” and dispersed, authorities said in a separate statement. Protesters later regrouped to block a road, authorities said.
Video and photographs posted on social media and on the SMHRIC Web site showed large numbers of riot police, carrying shields and batons, blocking a highway and chasing protesters away.
On Monday, the government issued a notice ordering the industrial park to shut down and telling the companies in it that they would be relocated. It also said people who had “blocked roads, smashed up cars, stirred up trouble and made up rumors” would be held legally responsible. People who gave themselves up would be treated leniently, it said.
Villagers wrote on social media and told SMHRIC that they were defending their rights to their grazing land and to clean air and water. One wrote that they have complained about the pollution for years and that the local government had frequently promised to fix the problem but had never done so.
Others told Radio Free Asia that the government had responded to previous protests by closing the refinery complex and then reopening it within weeks. The complex has been in existence for more than a decade, but the pollution has intensified since 2012, villagers told RFA.
“Every day when we wake up in early morning, the smell of the chemical plant would drift by,” one user, named Assassin-SW, posted on social media. “There are fruit trees in several villages around here, but the trees have all died. The water discharged from the plant is all red and goes straight underground, without treatment.
“People in many villages dare not drink the tap water or water from the well because the underground water has been so polluted.”
Geegee told SMHRIC that villagers and livestock have suffered.
“An increasing number of villagers have become sick, and the miscarriage rate is soaring among pregnant women here,” she said. “Our livestock is being poisoned to death, and crops and vegetables are inedible.”
In May 2011, when a coal truck driver of the Han Chinese ethnic majority killed a Mongol herder protesting the mining industry, days of demonstrations involving thousands of people ensued across the region. According to SMHRIC, smaller, sporadic protests still occur almost every day.
The Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, nearly twice the size of Texas, straddles northern China, lying south and east of the independent country of Mongolia. The region is home to nearly 25 million people, of whom 17 percent are ethnic Mongols. It is China’s second-largest coal-producing region, is the main global supplier of rare earths and has large natural gas reserves.
Xu Yangjingjing contributed to this report.