Thousands of residents in Shirfang, a southwestern city in China, protested July 3 against a proposed copper alloy project, underscoring growing civic unrest with environmental conditions in the country.

The group, which included high school students, carried banners that read ‘Get rid of Hongda copper alloy project, give me back the beautiful new Shifang.’

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Shifang residents protest against a proposed copper alloy project they fear will lead to poisonous pollution on July 3, 2012. (Reuters)

Police reportedly used tear gas and violence to break up the protests. China’s national government condemned the protests, and in a bid to maintain social stability, warned demonstrators to not stage further actions. This is not the first time the Chinese government has attempted to stifle criticism of its environmental record.

Shifang’s municipal government agreed to scrap the construction of the copper plant following the protests.

Chinese citizens have been increasingly critical of the environmental damage that has been a byproduct of the country’s economic boom. In recent years, there have been mass poisonings from industrial chemicals, rivers fouled by illegal workshop runoff and many smoggy days in Beijing and other major cities.

These incidents, as well as industry's continued encroachment on green spaces, has spurred the country’s environmental activists, some of whom were profiled on CBC-TV’s The Nature of Things.