By Megha Rajagopalan
BEIJING (Reuters) - Hundreds of protesters rioted in southern China after weekend demonstrations against a project to build a trash incinerator turned violent, with city government officials saying they had to detain 11 people to restore order.
Decades of breakneck economic growth have led to severe environmental damage in many parts of China, where choking smog often angers increasingly educated and affluent city-dwellers.
Protesters said the demonstrations, which began on Saturday in Yangchun, a city with a population of about a million located in the manufacturing powerhouse of Guangdong, drew hundreds of people agitated over the risk of pollution from the project.
"How will we survive breathing in noxious smoke?" an employee of a small Internet firm told Reuters by telephone on Tuesday.
"Yesterday night, the police have already beaten a lot of people, and arrested more," added the woman, who gave only her surname, Mo, for fear of reprisals from the authorities.
Photographs posted online, some on the website of the official Xinhua news agency, showed protesters pinning a police officer to the ground, and flames engulfing an overturned car. Three vehicles were damaged, the government said.
In an online statement on Sunday, the city government said 11 lawbreakers had been detained, but no one was injured. Police could not be reached for comment.
Tension persisted on Tuesday, with protesters saying hundreds of people were still gathered near the gates of a cement plant that is cooperating with the trash incinerator project.
Every year, China experiences tens of thousands of "mass incidents", the usual euphemism for protests, triggered by grievances over corruption, pollution and illegal land grabs.
The events are unnerving to the ruling Communist Party, which is obsessed with the need to maintain stability.
A rash of health scares and accidents has also fueled public scepticism about the safety of industries ranging from food to energy.
(Reporting by Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)