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Shanghai residents protest train line construction

Shanghai residents protest train line construction

Construction of a high-speed rail link between Shanghai and the nearby city of Hangzhou is raising protests among residents who say the trains will run too close to their apartments _ the latest hiccup in the long-debated project.
While much smaller in scope than earlier protests over a proposed magnetic levitation rail line _ plans the city appears to have shelved for now _ sit-ins by the residents of Xihuan, a suburb in western Shanghai, highlight the frustrations of many here as the city rushes to finish projects ahead of next year's World Expo.
China's topdown style of governing and state-controlled media allow for scant public input, and increasing affluence has left many residents expecting more opportunities to be heard.
"They started work without saying anything to us," one elderly woman who was sitting with other protesters near the construction site, just across the street from their apartments, complained Thursday.
"Other people are getting a better quality of life. Why can't we? What can we say? Who can we go to for help?" said the woman, who warily gave only her surname, Zhu.
The protesters, who say they've kept up their round-the-clock vigil near the construction site for a month, complain that police earlier this week surrounded and beat them during a meeting held to discuss the problem.
Some have also staged sit-ins near government offices.
"It did happen, but we are not able to tell you anything," said an official at the Minhang District letters and visits office, whose function is to receive complaints and petitions. The official would only identify himself by his employee number, No. 26. He would not give his name.
A spokeswoman for the district government said she was unaware of the melee, which protesters said put one man in the hospital. A Shanghai city government spokeswoman said their office did not know about the protests.
Shanghai, a city of about 20 million people, has relocated millions for urban renewal projects _ the largest a vast riverside space cleared for the Expo, which begins May 1 and is expected to draw 70 million visitors.
In some cases, residents move willingly, accepting compensation and new apartments, often in distant suburbs. In other cases, they've resisted and moved only when forced out.
With more than a dozen new subway lines being built, shop fronts under renovation and major highways and most of the city's riverfront under construction, it often seems few parts of the city have been left in peace.
The quiet lane near the Xihuan apartments used to be one of those rare places. Far from downtown on the very edges of the city, the narrow road appears to be used mainly by people learning to drive.
A conventional rail line, busy with freight and passenger traffic, already runs along the road, about 100 yards (meters) from the six-story apartment blocks. But before construction on the new line started in February, residents say the noise from the existing line was muffled by a thick greenbelt and tall trees.
Now, instead of greenery, a pile of rubble marks where the high-speed trains, reaching up to 220 miles (350 kilometers) per hour, are due to begin running in 2011 _ just 30 yards (meters) from the closest apartments.
Some of the 800 families participating in the protest worry about the noise and potential damage from construction and the trains, others about declining property values. Representatives of the group say they want to receive compensation and move.
A meeting with local officials this week ended in a shouting match, said some who attended.
Last year, protest marches by hundreds of residents in other neighborhoods over the proposed extension of a high-tech, magnetic levitation train line meant to run between the city's two airports appear to have forced the government to put off the project.
Originally officials spoke of also making the Shanghai-Hangzhou rail link a maglev line.
In the end, they settled for a less costly technology that will cut travel time to about 40 minutes from the current 70 minutes.
Despite resistance, the showcase $30 billion yuan ($4.4 billion) project _ one of three high-speed rail links intended to drastically cut travel times between Shanghai, Hangzhou and Nanjing _ appears to be destined to go ahead: a red signboard posted at the site promises to finish work as quickly as possible.