Homeless Tianjin residents demand compensation, answers
About 150 people, some with their faces scarred and many wearing protective breathing masks, descended on a hotel where government and military officials have been holding daily press briefings on the disaster.
“Buy back!,” they shouted repeatedly and in unison, demanding compensation for their lost homes and belongings.
Many said they lived just 600 metres from the disaster, which struck Wednesday night and left a wide swathe of the area in ruins.
Liu Liang, a fashion designer who lives in a development called Harbour City, complained that residents were getting no answers from the government and being treated improperly.
He ran and left everything behind when the disaster struck, he told AFP, removing a bandage to show stitches near his left eye.
“The water, the air, the underground water are polluted,” he said, voicing the fears of many.
“We can’t live here,” he added.
Despite their fury, the protestors attempted to show humility towards the authorities.
“Property owners of Harbour City: We love the Party, trust the government and plead for buyback,” read a banner in white Chinese characters on a red background.
Some held small individual signs saying: “We resolutely demand government buyback.
Four officials who held a press conference in the hotel basement did not meet the protesters and left immediately afterwards.
Some of the demonstrators were focused on their families and health.
One woman, wearing a blue face mask, held a sign reading: “Dad, waiting for you to return home.”
Another banner pleaded: “Give the children of Harbour City a clean future”.
Police and other security, including SWAT teams and some in camouflage, stood by watching but no moves were made to stop the gathering, which dispersed after a few hours.
Demonstrations have become increasingly frequent in China in recent years over local issues such as pollution and corruption, but are more common in rural areas and second- and third-tier cities.
Authorities often tolerate them so long as they evince no signs that protesters are effectively organising beyond their own given locale, and do not make demands or criticisms of a political nature, such as condemning the ruling Communist Party.
Wen Jing, another participant, said she, her sister and their parents “ran away” from their 33rd-floor apartment on Wednesday night and are staying in a hotel for now.
“We can’t go back to our home,” she said, adding it was “totally” damaged.
She too expressed frustration with officials.
“They haven’t spoken a word to us yet,” she said.
“No one has noticed us yet. No one said anything to us.”
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited Tianjin on Sunday to inspect the area, a common development after major disasters in the country, where top leaders are keen to show they are responding effectively. The visits are highly controlled and choreographed.
But Liu was not impressed. “No details, no details,” he repeated.