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Thousands of Farmers Battle Police in China


As many as 100,000 farmers have reportedly clashed with police in Southwest China during a massive demonstration against being displaced for a new hydroelectric power project.

The violence apparently erupted Thursday as the farmers demanded better compensation for their land to be flooded by a new dam project in China's Sichuan Province.

Hong Kong's Daily Sun newspaper reports several people were killed and dozens more injured when up to 10,000 armed policemen were dispatched to the region to restore order.

Martin Baker works with the environmental group, Greenpeace, in its Hong Kong office. He says this is not the first time farmers' grievances have led to violent protests over Chinese dam projects. "Not the first by any means," he emphasized. "In other dams protests it's been loss of agricultural land, its been threats to downriver communities, it may have been low compensation payouts or the quality of accommodation that people are moved to."

China's energy deficit is driving a number of large-scale hydroelectric projects around the country, often mired in similar protests. Supporters of the dams, including the World Bank, insist the projects are safe, clean alternatives to heavily polluting coal furnaces. Seven of the world's 10 most polluted cities are in China, and coal pollution has been blamed for 100,000 deaths annually.

But critics of the largest dam projects, like Greenpeace, say authorities displace millions of farmers and at the same time, other less disruptive renewable energy sources go unused. ""Like there's a huge wind resource and also huge solar power resource which could be less damagingly exploited," said Mr. Baker.

The Dadu River project at the center of last week's clashes is expected to force 100,000 farmers off their land when the new dam floods the region.

The dam will have three different turbines, and when it is completed in 2010 will be the fifth largest hydroelectric station in China.

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