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Listen to protesters, authorities toldAfter weekend riots, People’s Daily says awareness of environmental rights is increasing rapidly and calls for transparent decision-making mechanismAgencies in Beijing and Shanghai, and Keith Zhai31 July 2012The top Communist Party mouthpiece yesterday urged authorities to listen to people’s concerns about pollution, after fears over a new industrial waste water pipeline sparked weekend riots.“The public’s awareness of environmental issues and their rights is increasing at a rapid pace,” said a signed commentary in People’s Daily.The mainland should strive to “establish an open and transparent decision-making mechanism, and build a tolerant environment for public opinion”, it said.Authorities in Qidong, in the eastern province of Jiangsu, agreed on Saturday to cancel plans to build the pipeline after thousands of local people took to the streets, overturning cars and ransacking government offices.They were concerned that the pipeline, from a Japanese-owned paper factory, Oji Paper, would pollute a nearby fishing port.The mainland’s dependence on manufacturing for economic growth has left the country struggling with a legacy of industrial pollution, and the riots in Qidong were only the latest in a series of environmental protests.People’s Daily said the growing frustration with pollution from industrial projects provided an opportunity to shift away from low-end manufacturing towards less-polluting industries.Many of the projects that have been the focus of citizen protests had been approved by the local government without sufficient consultation with residents, it said.Such high-profile protests highlighted the need “to promote interaction between citizens and government” when assessing the environmental impact of proposed industrial projects, the commentary added.“Being a responsible government means to make oneself independent of the specific entanglements of economic interests and become the implementer of the public interest, and the balancer of economic interests,” it said.The Global Times, a tabloid affiliated with People’s Daily, even blamed bad decision-making as the main reason for Qidong’s protest and compared it with another massive violent protest over environmental concerns in Shifang, Sichuan.“An irrational decision-making process is the main reason why the Shifang and Qidong governments experienced mass incidents,” the paper said.In a development likely to cause concern in Beijing, some demonstrators in Qidong said they were inspired by the events in Shifang, where the protests were widely seen as having forced the local government to cancel a refinery project.The spread of a “Shifang-Qidong Model” of violent protest would damage social stability “and present an unprecedented challenge to China’s future development”, the Global Times warned.Oji Paper yesterday said it was “deeply concerned” about the weekend’s demonstration. It denied that the paper factory’s waste water would contain carcinogens. .Meanwhile, Qidong police have arrested a local internet user, surnamed Sun, for allegedly spreading rumours online on Saturday that police officers from Nantong city , which administers Qidong, “trampled a nine-year-old girl to death, followed by the beating of an 18-year-old college student to death in the afternoon”.Police said in a weibo statement that Sun would be detained for 10 days and fined 500 yuan (HK$613).Agence France-Presse, Reuters
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