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Chinese Environmental Activist Arrested as Attempts to Save Polluted Lake Ires Officials, Industry

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SHANGHAI, China -- Prominent Chinese environmental activist Wu Lihong is in police custody after he was arrested for alleged blackmail, his wife said Monday.

Dozens of police stormed Wu's house in eastern China on April 13, ransacked it and took his computer and personal documents, said Xu Jiehua.

"He has been accused of blackmail," she told AFP. "This is the 10th day he remains in police custody."

The 39-year-old has campaigned for years against the pollution of Taihu lake, which lies in the centre of the Yangtze River Delta plain, a region known for its natural beauty but littered with polluting light industry and chemical factories.

Taihu lake, which borders China's eastern Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces, is also a major source of drinking water for the heavily populated area including neighbouring Shanghai, China's financial hub.

In an interview with AFP in March 2006, Wu said immediate economic interests continued to take precedence over environmental protection.

"The government and industry are connected to each other like a chain, they are inseparable," he said at the time.

"The central government is good but it can't see what's happening here with the local government colluding with the factories."

Near Yixing, a city of more than one million people, water pollution is so severe that the area has received numerous official visits by top Communist party officials, including Premier Wen Jiabao.

Although China has vowed to step up protection of its heavily degraded environment, local politics often trumps national policy and effective independent policing, Wu said.

Wu, who has repeatedly been threatened by the authorities, was last formally arrested in 2002, when police held him for 10 days.

"Wu Lihong has over the years put a lot of pressure on the authorities here and when you do that in China, this is what happens," said a friend.

He recently ran into more trouble with the authorities after Yixing was named "national model city for environmental protection," his wife said.

"Everyone who lives here thought it was really funny, because it's clearly not (a model city)," she told AFP.

"So Wu Lihong took it upon himself to represent everybody and write letters and make phone calls to the environmental authorities, and after that the local police started to harass him," she said.

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