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China battery plant protest gives voice to rising anger over pollution

People participate in a protest against a battery factory on a street of Songjiang district, on the outskirts of Shanghai May 11, 2013. REUT
People participate in a protest against a battery factory on a street of Songjiang district, on the outskirts of Shanghai May 11, 2013. REUT

By Jane Lee and Gabriel Wildau

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Hundreds of protesters gathered in the Chinese financial hub of Shanghai on Saturday to oppose plans for a lithium battery factory, highlighting growing social tension over pollution.

Police stood by as residents marched peacefully along a busy street in the Songjiang district of the city, gathering at an intersection near the site of a Carrefour hypermarket, chanting and holding signs saying "No factory here, we love Songjiang."

Many wore matching t-shirts with an image of a smoky factory enclosed by the red "no" symbol.

Residents are concerned about potential waste water and gas emissions from the plant, which would be built by Hefei Guoxuan High-tech Power Energy Co Ltd.

Protests over pollution are becoming more frequent in China, as the country's increasingly affluent urban population begins to object to the model of growth at all costs that has fuelled the economy for three decades.

Saturday's gathering, attracting about 1,000 protesters, was the third mass protest in recent weeks against the planned factory.

In response, Songjiang district officials said late last month that the factory would only produce lithium cells and conduct final assembly of the batteries, but would not be permitted to produce anode and cathode, the official Global Times reported at the time.

Songjiang officials say the plant will be safe.

Last week, several hundred people took to the streets of Kunming, in southwest Yunnan province, to protest against a chemical refinery planned by China National Petroleum Corp, China's largest energy producer.

Kunming's mayor, Li Wenrong, said on Friday that the government will halt the project if most citizens object to it, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

In November, the eastern port of Ningbo suspended a petrochemical project after several days of street protests.

Last July, a crowd of thousands in Qidong city, north of Shanghai, ransacked government offices in a protest against a pipeline for waste from a paper factory.

(Editing by Nick Macfie)

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