Of­fi­cials calm home­owner protests over Tian­jin


Of­fi­cials in the Chi­nese port city of Tian­jin agreed on Wed­nes­day to ne­go­ti­ate with an­gry res­i­dents left home­less by mas­sive ex­plo­sions, af­ter a se­ries of protests seek­ing com­pen­sa­tion for their de­stroyed homes.

China keeps a tight grip on shows of public dis­sent, re­quir­ing public gath­er­ings to have per­mis­sion and us­ing po­lice to round up protesters, though of­fi­cials some­times meet with dis­grun­tled cit­i­zens to defuse ten­sions.

About 150 de­mon­stra­tors who lost homes in the city’s Bin­hai New Area where the blasts oc­curred a week ago were caught by sur­prise on Wed­nes­day, af­ter sev­eral of­fi­cials spoke to them fol­low­ing a press con­fer­ence by Tian­jin mayor Huang Xing­guo and oth­ers at a lux­ury ho­tel.

For days, protesters — un­der the watch­ful eyes of po­lice — have been shout­ing slo­gans and de­mand­ing com­pen­sa­tion for their dam­aged apart­ments, some just hun­dreds of me­tres from the site of the blasts that left at least 114 peo­ple dead and hun­dreds in­jured.

They have also de­manded a meet­ing with of­fi­cials to press claims that the gov­ern­ment should pay for new apart­ments.

Sev­eral of­fi­cials emerged af­ter the press con­fer­ence and ap­proached the demon­stra­tion, caus­ing a chaotic scene of scream­ing and jostling as protesters rushed to­ward them, as Chi­nese and for­eign jour­nal­ists recorded the event.

“Buy back!” they shouted re­peat­edly — voic­ing their de­mand for new homes — as of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing Zong Guoy­ing, the Com­mu­nist Party sec­re­tary for the dis­trict, took mega­phones to speak.

Of­fi­cials said they un­der­stood the plight of the res­i­dents and were con­cerned about their health.

One pro­posed that protesters from each af­fected apart­ment com­plex se­lect rep­re­sen­ta­tives for talks with dis­trict of­fi­cials.

There were in­ter­mit­tent bursts of anger in re­sponse to re­marks by the of­fi­cials, but grad­u­ally rep­re­sen­ta­tives for some of the apart­ments were agreed.

But pro­tester Xuan Hong stressed that all the of­fi­cials had re­ally done was com­mit to talks.

“Pos­i­tive, but still no so­lu­tion,” he told AFP.

“I think they al­ready have their so­lu­tion but I’m not sure they can meet our ex­pec­ta­tions,” he added, re­fer­ring to the de­mand to pur­chase new homes.

‘Chi­nese democ­racy’

In­deed, re­gard­ing that, Zong said that it was just one op­tion.

“We have many, many ways”, he told AFP amid the scrum as other of­fi­cials ad­dressed the protest, sug­gest­ing that the gov­ern­ment, the apart­ment de­vel­op­ers and the own­ers need to sit down as “part­ners”.

Asked if of­fi­cials had come out in re­sponse to the protests, he said: “This is our re­spon­si­bil­ity. We are the peo­ple’s gov­ern­ment.”

Pressed as to why Huang did not meet them, Zong said that was his re­spon­si­bil­ity not the mayor’s.

“He is in charge of the whole city,” Zong said. “I’m in charge of the Bin­hai New Area.”

At the press con­fer­ence Huang said: “I have lead­er­ship re­spon­si­bil­ity that can­not be shirked.”

Premier Li Ke­qiang vis­ited Tian­jin on Sun­day to in­spect the area, though some online com­men­ta­tors ques­tioned why he took four days to do so.

The scene out­side the ho­tel un­folded as skies cleared in Tian­jin. Rain had fallen in the morn­ing and on Tues­day, fur­ther rais­ing fears over dam­age to the en­vi­ron­ment from the residue of poi­sonous chem­i­cals.

Around 700 tonnes of highly toxic sodium cyanide were at the site, of­fi­cials have said, and wa­ter could spread it more widely.

De­spite the loud de­mands for com­pen­sa­tion, the protesters have also taken some pains to avoid an­ger­ing of­fi­cials, un­furl­ing ban­ners stress­ing that they “love the party” and “trust the gov­ern­ment” as well as mak­ing sure to show re­spect for those who lost their lives in the dis­as­ter.

“Chi­nese democ­racy is dif­fer­ent,” Zong, the Com­mu­nist Party sec­re­tary, said of Wed­nes­day’s scene. “But the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment is work­ing for the Chi­nese peo­ple.”


Res­i­dents de­mand­ing com­pen­sa­tion for dam­age to their homes af­ter an ex­plo­sion at the Tian­jin port protest out­side a ho­tel where media press con­fer­ences are be­ing held in north­east­ern China’s Tian­jin mu­nic­i­pal­ity, Wed­nes­day, Aug. 19.

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