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Fire at China chemical factory 'under control'

Hundreds of firefighters took almost a day to subdue a blaze at a controversial chemical plant in the Chinese city of Zhangzhou. The fire came amid reports of a crackdown on environmental protests in Inner Mongolia.

The vast fire at the Zhangzhou factory in China's eastern Fujian province was under control Tuesday, after more than 800 firefighters worked for 21 hours to put it out according to Chinese state news agency Xinhua.

The blaze, which appeared to have been triggered by an oil leak, started Monday evening and footage broadcast on CCTV News showed flames reaching into the air. Conflicting news agency reports put the number of injured people at either six or 19, with no fatalities reported.

Zhangzhou Deputy Mayor Zhang Yiteng told reporters that the immediate area had been evacuated and authorities were monitoring the environment for any contamination.

It's the second accident at the site in the past 20 months, Xinhua reported. The factory was originally supposed to be built in the nearby city of Xiamen, on the coast, but was moved to its present site after residents protested in 2007, citing concerns about potential health hazards.

There have been several protests in Chinese cities during recent years against proposals for chemical plants to make Paraxylene (PX), a highly flammable liquid which is used in the production of polyester films and fabrics. Such protests have become increasingly common in China amid concerns about widespread air, water and soil pollution caused by industry.

China Explosion Chemiefabrik

Smoke from the fire was visible from around Zhangzhou

Inner Mongolia environmental protest

Some 2,200 kilometers (1,370 miles) away in China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region, reports have emerged of about 2,000 police breaking up demonstrations in Naiman Banner, a mainly rural region. Residents cited by the US-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC), which was quoted by news agency AFP, said protestors took exception to waste being discharged by a local "chemical refinery zone" directly onto grazing land used by members of the local Mongol minority.

According to the SMHRIC website, one person was killed and dozens of people were arrested in a crackdown at the weekend following a weeks-long standoff. Rubber bullets, tear gas, batons and water cannons were used by police to break up the demonstrations, SMHRIC reported. However, a Naiman Banner official who declined to be named told the AFP news agency authorities did not know of any deaths.

Pictures posted online, which could not immediately be independently verified, showed a banner reading "Push out the chemicals, give us back clean water and blue skies," hanging over a roadblock, AFP said, adding that local officials said they had ordered several chemical firms in the area to shut down while investigations were carried out.

se/msh (AFP, AP)

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