China vows crackdown after latest protest

Chinese authorities vowed Tuesday to crack down on protesters after riot police clashed with hundreds of people rallying against a planned new metals plant over fears about its environmental impact.

The latest bout of social unrest to hit China occurred in the small city of Shifang, which is still trying to recover after being badly hit in a 2008 earthquake that killed 88,000 people in the southwest of the country.

The violence erupted on Monday when, according to the official account, protesters attacked government offices with bricks and stones, smashed cars, and clashed directly with police and government employees.

In unusually strong language, Shifang police warned citizens Tuesday that they would be "severely punished" if they sought to continue the "illegal" protests.

"Anyone who has incited, planned or organized illegal gatherings, protest marches or demonstrations or those who have engaged in smashing and looting… will be punished severely," the police said in a statement.

"Anyone using the Internet, mobile text messages and other methods to incite, plan or organize illegal gatherings, protest marches or demonstrations must immediately stop their illegal activities."

Photos apparently of the unrest posted online, but which could not be immediately verified by AFP, showed hundreds of police in riot gear clashing with protesters.

Many photos also depicted bloodied demonstrators. Others showed hundreds of protesters marching through the streets carrying banners calling for the planned factory to be scrapped.

The factory would process a heavy metal, and residents said on web postings they were scared of the damage it would do to the local environment.

While warning against further protests, the local government also issued a statement on Monday saying construction of the factory had been stopped.

Shifang has a population of about 430,000 people, and is 50 km from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province.

Calls to the Shifang police and government went unanswered Tuesday.

A Shifang resident, when contacted by AFP, said roads in the city remained blocked by police on Tuesday but it was unclear whether there were further protests.

Social unrest is a major problem for China's communist rulers, who are struggling to deal with anger across the vast nation of 1.3 billion people over issues such as environmental degradation, rising inequality and corruption.

Protests similar to the one in Shifang are reported regularly.

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