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Protest over incinerator turns violent in China; dozens injured, highway blocked

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BEIJING, China - A protest in eastern China over a plan to build a waste incinerator turned violent, with state media reporting that at least 10 demonstrators and 29 police officers were injured in clashes.

Demonstrators on Saturday overturned 30 vehicles, set two police cars on fire and blocked a highway linking Hangzhou with another city, the official Xinhua News Agency said. A protester and a policeman were seriously injured.

Environmental protests have been on the rise in China, with the public becoming increasingly critical of pollution and health hazards from industry. Such concerns resonate well among Chinese, but also pose a serious political challenge to the ruling Communist Party. Anger over the party's response — or lack of it — to environmental woes can easily fuel wider dissatisfaction.

A woman who said she lives 1 kilometre (half a mile) from the proposed incinerator site told The Associated Press on Sunday that thousands of people turned out for the protest, which followed government assurances that the project would not pose a health threat. The woman refused to reveal her name.

She said protesters did not return Sunday as police were heavily guarding the area.

"The people here worry that this plant will impact our health and environment," she said. "We just hope it doesn't get too close to our houses or our village."

Protesters did win a tentative victory Sunday. An online statement posted by the district government said construction on the incinerator would not begin until the project had won public support. Hangzhou law enforcement authorities also said on their Weibo social media account that protesters who committed vandalism or other crimes and surrendered could receive more lenient punishment.

"People are losing confidence in the way the government is handling these projects," said Wu Yixiu, head of environmental group Greenpeace's toxics campaign in East Asia. "There's more of a perception that people are not willing to sacrifice the environment and health in exchange for development."

In late March, protests over a proposed petrochemical plant in Maoming city in southern Guangdong province also erupted into riots. Local authorities later vowed to heed public comment on the plant.

"This is a clear message to the government that if you push something like this forcefully, this is what will happen," Wu said of the Hangzhou protest. "But it is a lose-lose result. It's a loss for the government, because they need to find a place to put their garbage. It's also a loss for the people, because they need to live somewhere where garbage is properly treated."

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Associated Press news assistant Henry Hou contributed to this report.

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