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Anger, triumph fill Three Gorges

Swiftly rising waters behind the new Chinese dam have already submerged villages and factories.

(Page 2 of 2)

Officials at the Three Gorges Construction Commission deny that anything is wrong. "There have been no delays," insists a spokesman, who gave his name as Mr. Tong. "Everything in the project is going ahead as planned."

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Critics say China is still struggling to finance the project and find buyers for its power. Only half the $24.5 billion investment has been raised, mostly through special taxes and government bonds.

The dam needs 26 turbines capable of generating 18,200 megawatts of electricity. Two 700-megawatt generators should begin operating in August and two others in October.

Many assumptions about the jobs the project would create in urban areas, the funding, the number of people to be resettled, and the availability of land for displaced peasants have proved too optimistic.

So far, about 120,000 peasants have been relocated to 11 different provinces in coastal China. But many have returned claiming they were cheated: They struggled to match their former incomes, despite being promised new jobs and a higher living standard.

"Instead of fields, we were offered wasteland to farm," says one peasant, who was relocated to Hubei province.

Together with more than 100 others who decided to return home, he joined a protest in February outside the county's Communist Party headquarters. When squads of heavily armed riot police arrived, the protesters smashed the offices of the emigration department and dozens were arrested.

Many who took part in protests or signed petitions have been imprisoned for disturbing social order, including those who gave their names to foreign media.

"Corruption is everywhere in Chongqing. Most of the Party secretaries and heads of the villages in Chongqing have been falsely reporting on the numbers of migrants and pocketed the extra money themselves. They are living well but we are suffering," says another peasant, who declined to give his name.

"The government is paying greater attention to the resettlement than to the project itself because people are more important," says Gan Yuping, deputy director of the project's construction committee. He said the government is investing $12 billion for relocation of inhabitants and is making sure their rights are respected.

Yet many people, like environmentalist Dai Qing, continue to express fears that the dam will be an environmental catastrophe, creating a giant cesspit and rapidly filling up with sediment from the deforested slopes of Tibet's great mountains.

The government says it has cleared up 4 million tons of garbage and industrial wastes.

"Decades of accumulated trash from the villages, hospitals, and cemeteries, including highly toxic waste material from the factories and the corpses of millions of poisoned rats, are all still there," says Ms. Dai.

All the pollution from Chongqing and other industrial cities still goes straight into the Yangtze. Its waters are so poisonous that no one living near it dares drink it or use it for agriculture.

China plans to invest $5 billion over the next decade to build hundreds of sewage and waste disposal plants.