Rare Beijing protest takes aim at high speed rail project

BEIJING Sun Dec 9, 2012 3:00pm IST

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BEIJING (Reuters) - Authorities in Beijing allowed a rare protest to take place on Sunday against a new high speed rail line, with about 300 demonstrators shouting slogans disrupting traffic in a busy eastern suburb.

Residents told Reuters they were concerned the new line from Beijing to the northeastern city of Shenyang would run too close to their apartments and local schools, causing excess noise and electromagnetic radiation.

They also complained the government had refused to listen to their concerns and accused them of faking an environmental impact assessment.

"I only knew this line was planned two weeks ago when I got a letter from the government thanking me for my support," said a protester who gave her family name as Zhang. "But neither me nor any of the other residents support this. They are inventing things."

Reuters was unable to reach government officials to seek comment.

Police allowed the largely middle-class protesters to march down a main road, where they briefly blocked an intersection shouting "down with the high speed line" and "change the route".

They peacefully dispersed later in the afternoon.

The stability-obsessed ruling Communist Party is wary of any protests, especially in the sensitive capital of Beijing, and often detain demonstrators or break up protests before they reach critical mass.

The party worries that the tens of thousands of sporadic protests over land grabs, corruption, environmental problems and economic grievances that break out every year could coalesce into a national movement and threaten its control.

In 2008, hundreds of people in China's financial hub Shanghai marched against the extension of the city's magnetic levitation train, or "maglev", worried it would emit radiation and sicken them. Police detained dozens.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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