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The Associated Press August 14, 2011, 6:05AM ET

Thousands protest against Chinese chemical plant

Authorities in a northeastern Chinese port city ordered a petrochemical plant be shut down after more than 12,000 people demonstrated Sunday over pollution concerns, state media said.

Officials also pledged to relocate the Fujia chemical plant from Dalian city, the Xinhua News Agency said.

Earlier Sunday, scuffles broke out between riot police and more than 12,000 protesters who were demanding that the plant, which produces the chemical paraxylene, be moved after a tropical storm raised fears of a toxic spill, Xinhua said. No injuries were reported in the confrontations.

Calls to relocate the plant grew after waves from Tropical Storm Muifa broke a dike guarding it last week and raised fears that flood waters could release toxic chemicals. Xinhua said no chemical leaks had been reported.

Paraxylene is widely used in the production of polyester. Short-term exposure can cause eye, nose or throat irritation in humans, and chronic exposure can affect the central nervous system and cause death.

Despite the apparent success of the protest, censors quickly began deleting references to it on social networking sites -- a usual practice to prevent demonstrations from spreading.

A video posted on the microblogging site Weibo showed the city's top official, Tang Jun, standing on a police van trying to appease the crowd. Xinhua said Tang and Mayor Li Wancai promised to move the plant out of the city, but some protesters refused to budge until a timetable was given.

Xinhua reported that the municipal committee of the Communist Party and the government ordered an immediate shutdown.

In 2007, plans for another paraxylene plant in the city of Xiamen in southeastern China provoked protests from residents worried about health hazards. In 2009, the Environment Ministry said it would be built instead in a less populated area of another southeastern city, Zhangzhou.

On Friday, the Zhangzhou government said that a paraxylene plant is expected to be completed there by the end of this year and will start operating early next year.

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