South China town unrest cools after dialogue

BEIJING, December 24, 2011 (AFP) - Tenuous calm returned Saturday to a south China town that was the scene of violent clashes between police and protestors this week, after local residents said officials had agreed to a dialogue.

Locals of Haimen township who had gathered for a fourth day on Friday to protest against a planned power plant expansion -- throwing bricks and getting hit by police tear gas -- said the peace could be temporary.

"It is quiet today so far, but I don't know if this will last this afternoon," a travel agent who gave only his surname, Lin, told AFP.

State-run local television on Friday night broadcast a message from nearby Shantou City Communist Party officials promising at least a temporary stop to plans to expand state-run Huaneng Power's coal-fired plant, Lin said.

"The party secretary of the discipline and inspection committee in Shantou said on TV last night that this power plant will be stopped temporarily. He didn't say they will give up the plan. He was just trying to calm the people."

Another resident who declined to give his name said, "It is quiet now and we have temporarily accepted the government's suggestions after the dialogue between us and the government."

No sign of the Shantou officials' reported promise appeared on the local government web site and a government duty officer reached by telephone said he did not know about the reported dialogue or any agreement with local residents.

Friday television footage from broadcaster Cable TV in nearby Hong Kong showed riot police firing gas cannisters towards a crowd of residents gathered on a highway.

China's state-run Xinhua news agency said Friday that around 500 people had gathered for a fourth day of protests against the planned expansion of the plant.

The crowd, which was smaller than the thousands of protestors residents said had gathered on Tuesday and Wednesday, dispersed Friday evening, Xinhua said, after talks between government officials and town representatives.

Some residents told AFP that a 15-year-old boy and a middle-aged woman had been killed in violence on Tuesday, but a local official quoted by Xinhua denied any deaths.

A protest in the nearby village of Wukan attracted worldwide media attention.

Wukan villagers ended their long stand-off with authorities on Tuesday after a senior provincial official pledged to free three detained protest leaders and investigate their grievances.