Source: Yahoo! News Singapore / Handout

Authorities in Guangdong province halt controversial plans to build crematorium, but clashes between riot police and residents continue

Following protests from locals over plans by the township government of a city in southern China to build a crematorium instead of a park, the authorities have decided to put said plans on hold.

South China Morning Post on Sat (30 Nov) reported that authorities in Huazhou — located in the Guangdong province — had issued a notice on Fri evening indicating that they will be suspending the crematorium project in the town of Wenlou after observing that the public held “different views” on the development.

However, locals were not pacified as they continued to protest — as seen in a video posted by SCMP on Twitter — in a stand-off against Chinese riot police outside the Wenlou township government’s offices the following day:

Police fired tear gas and used batons against locals protesting during the couple of days of clashes, resulting in dozens of people being injured and many more being detained, witnesses told SCMP.

A woman who was not identified said that the detainees were held since Thu and were released on Sat. The Huazhou government, however, has not released any statement on the number of people injured or detained, SCMP observed.

The protests in Wenlou began last Thu after residents were alarmed by the township government’s announcement — published online on Thu — regarding its intention to build a crematorium inside the 75 mil yuan Huazhou Humanity and Ecology Park project, which will span across 10 hectares of land.

This notice, SCMP reported, was contrary to its previous notice at the end of Oct, which indicated that the land would be used for a park, along with offices and a canteen.

One woman who spoke to SCMP said that the crematorium raises concerns of pollution in the residents’ water source.

“The [site] is close to housing and the source of our drinking water,” she said, adding: “We’re afraid of pollution. We don’t want money or compensation, we just want the crematorium project scrapped.”

Another resident told SCMP that the community felt “cheated” for having to give up their farmland for the project.

“We only found out it is a crematorium recently and we are very upset. They should have had public consultation before,” she said.

Police brutality in Wenlou similar to that in Hong Kong, according to various reports

Parallels were drawn between the clashes in Wenlou and the ongoing protests in Hong Kong, the latter situated 100km south of the Guangdong province.

On Fri evening (29 Nov), SCMP reported that videos and photographs of Chinese riot police firing tear gas and beating protesters using batons — similar to tactics used by the Hong Kong police to dispel protesters — were circulating on various social media platforms outside China, and even on Weibo, a microblogging platform with a strong footing in China.

Such content, however, is blocked on the mainland. The Wenlou protests were also not reported in state media, unlike the Hong Kong protests.

While entries related to the Wenlou protests appear to have been removed from Weibo, some of the content were redistributed on Twitter and other social media sites.

“The people of Wenlou are pledging their lives to resist, but they have been met with suppression by the police, randomly arresting and hitting people. My last few posts have been deleted. Please save our town,” said a Weibo user who had posted several videos wrote on Fri.

One resident told SCMP that her relative — a man in his 40s — was taken away on Fri morning by police for allegedly posting news about the protests on Weibo.

Reporters were also barred by the police from entering the scene of the protest, SCMP observed.

The Guardian observed on Sat (30 Nov) that locals in Wenlou had expressed “anger at what they perceived to be police brutality and a sense they had been forced into the streets after being misled by local officials”.

One resident told The Guardian: “If not pushed to a dead end, who would choose to hit their heads against a rock?”

The Guardian also reported that riot police in Wenlou fired tear gas, threw rocks and beat protesters.

There were videos of residents hurling firecrackers at the police and tipping over a car, The Guardian observed.

One resident told The Guardian that the government “has violently deployed people to suppress” the locals’ protests.

“Now police are like crazy dogs, beating whoever they see. Where is the law? Where is morality?” the resident lamented, adding that even young students and the elderly were beaten by the riot police.

One resident — a shop owner who declined to be named — in Wenlou however told SCMP: “They kept firing tear gas and police with an accent from elsewhere kept entering the town … Residents are saying, ‘Why are the police not dealing with rioters in Hong Kong? Why are they targeting us? We are not rioters.”

Pan-democratic bloc majority signals “defiant rebuke” to Hong Kong government and Beijing’s narrative of a “silent majority”

In Hong Kong, confrontations between police and protesters resume as police fired tear gas and pepper spray against tens of thousands of protesters on Sun, following the pan-democratic bloc’s landslide victory in the district council election on 24 Nov, which saw a whopping 2.94 million voters — or 71 per cent of 4.1 million electors — casting their ballots across 18 districts.

The city’s Beijing-backed Chief Executive Carrie Lam has “offered no additional concessions in the wake of the elections, and protesters said they felt compelled to return to the streets”, AFP reported.

19-year-old student Edmund told AFP that the Hong Kong “government has given no real response, it’s unacceptable”.

“We have to keep going. We are fighting for our freedom, not just our own freedom but the next generation too. If we give up now all will be lost,” he added.

The latest district council election turnout, which was the highest recorded turnout of any election in the history of Hong Kong, saw residents voting overwhelmingly in favour of the pan-democratic bloc — comprising candidates in the legal and social work professions as well as veteran politicians — with 387 seats out of 452 seats being secured by pro-democracy candidates.

In contrast, only 59 seats were won by the pro-establishment — and pro-Beijing — camp as of press time.

Prominent pro-Beijing candidates such as Junius Ho — who was heavily condemned and even stabbed after a video of him shaking hands with a group of men who had attacked protesters and commuters in Yuen Long surfaced online — also lost what have been considered as “safe seats”.

Quartz, a global journalism platform focusing on the global economy, observed that the result of Sun’s elections suggest that “portraying the populace as a “silent majority” that has been cowed into submission by “violent rioters” hasn’t been particularly effective”.

Citing polls conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong, which showed that over 50 per cent of people distrust the police and the government, Quartz noted that pro-Beijing candidates, “who mostly ran on a platform of ending violence and preserving peace in the city, failed to resonate with voters”.

While district council elections are not typically considered a politically significant affair, given that district councils’ powers are restricted within the bounds of “hyper-local issues” such as parks, bus stops and waste collection, the pan-democratic bloc’s landslide win nonetheless sent a strong signal to both the Hong Kong government and Beijing, The Guardian and CNN observed.

The pro-democracy camp’s majority win can be seen as a “defiant rebuke” to the Hong Kong government’s narrative that “its hardline policies had the support of a “silent majority”, who had been cowed by protester violence”, in addition to planting “the seeds of greater long-term influence for democrats”, according to The Guardian.

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