More than 100,000 angry protesters mobbed Thailand’s industry minister today and destroyed a metal processing plant they feared would pollute the southern beach of Phuket, known as “the Pearl of the South,” police said.
The protesters also set fire to a hotel and broke the windows of banks financing the plant, police said.
At least three people suffered minor injuries during the daylong rampage and more than 20 people were arrested, officials said.
Army units were ordered to the beach-fringed tourist island, 425 miles south of Bangkok, and authorities said a curfew would probably be imposed.
Thousands of angry residents, some carrying banners and hanging effigies of the plant’s investors, crowded around Industry Minister Chirayu Isarangukura Na Ayutthaya as he arrived from Bangkok for a hearing to determine if a plant processing the high-technology metal tantalum should be allowed to open.
The protesters later set fire to the $75-million plant, sending thick smoke over the island. The blaze destroyed the building after a few hours, police said. A Thai television reporter at the scene reported that a mob kept fire engines away from the plant.
The facility, which was to begin processing tantalum from the slag of nearby tin mines, is opposed by environmentalists and local businessmen because it uses toxic chemicals and its byproducts are slightly radioactive.
Much of the economy of Phuket, a resort on the Andaman Sea, depends on tourism. Many residents fear the plant would hurt the tourist trade.