Thousands of villagers angry at government plans to build an artificial island in southern China forced the project’s suspension last week, clashing with workers and smashing vehicles, state media said on Monday.

The government in Wenchang, on the southern resort island province of Hainan, wants to build an artificial island off a port for tourism purposes. Villagers fear it will damage the environment and fishing grounds, Xinhua news agency said.

"Construction started last Tuesday but was forced to stop after angry villagers came to the site," the report said.

"The incident escalated on Wednesday when thousands of villagers gathered at the site and smashed government vehicles and clashed with construction workers. They also blocked a road to prevent trucks from delivering building materials to the site."

Residents fear the artificial island will also mean less space in the port for ships seeking shelter, especially during the typhoon season, the official news agency added.

It cited Lin Zhitie, head of the provincial marine and fishery bureau, as saying the 2 billion yuan ($303 million) scheme would help the local economy by easing coastal erosion and promoting tourism.

"Though the developer tried several times to resume construction, villagers have stopped all attempts," Xinhua said.

"According to Lin, the government is trying to talk villagers out of blocking construction work and he was unsure when construction could begin again."

The project is part of a plan to turn Hainan, often called "China’s Hawaii," into an international tourist destination by 2020, the report added.

China has seen an upsurge in public anger and protests caused by a growing rich-poor gap, environmental degradation, illegal land seizures and corruption.

SOURCE: Reuters
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