Guangdong Villagers Win Concessions

Protest march is called off by a rebellious village in southern China after talks with government officials.
2011-12-21
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The people of Wukan listen to a speech by village leader Lin Zuluan (L) at a rally after he met with a senior government official, Dec. 21, 2011.
The people of Wukan listen to a speech by village leader Lin Zuluan (L) at a rally after he met with a senior government official, Dec. 21, 2011.
AFP

Residents of the rebel Guangdong village of Wukan on Wednesday called off a planned protest march after winning concessions from the government, as villagers in a similar dispute nearby said police had started arresting those who took part in recent land protests.

Wukan villagers had planned further protests this week to call for a probe into alleged official corruption and the return of the body of a fellow protester, defying threats of force from officials, as thousands of armed police encircled the area.

But last-minute negotiations with local officials yielded promises that their demands would be met, village representatives said on Wednesday.

"First, they will release the detained villagers, and investigate fully the cause of Xue Jinbo's death," said a villager present at the meeting, surnamed Zhang, referring to a protester who died in police custody earlier this month.

Officials said Xue died of a heart attack, but relatives who identified the body said it was covered from head to foot in bruises and injuries.

"Then, they will return the body of Xue Jinbo so it can be laid to rest, and thirdly, they will send a working party from the provincial government to work with our representatives to investigate the issue of our land," Zhang said.

He added: "The villagers were satisfied with the government's response."

The government had also agreed to formally recognize and legalize a temporary village committee elected by local people, Zhang said.

"The villagers will not be pursued because their actions," he added.

Autopsy rejection

But Xue's daughter Xue Jianwan said the family was unwilling to consent to an autopsy on her father's body.

"The authorities told us that if we wish to have further investigations into the cause of my father's death, then they will have to carry out an autopsy," she said. "We don't accept that."

She said Xue's memory was still fresh in everyone's mind. "It's as if he were still alive," Xue Jianwan said. "We can't let him suffer any more."

"My father was innocent," she said, adding that the family was meeting to decide what the next step should be.

However, protests continued Wednesday in Haimen township in the city of Shantou, 75 miles (121 kilometers) from Wukan, local residents said.

A villager from Haimen surnamed Sun said the police were detaining local people, sparking further popular anger following mass protests outside government buildings on Tuesday over pollution.

"That's right, [we are protesting] because they didn't release the detainees," she said. "Then they refused to give us any information about them."

She said she was unsure how many people had been detained in the wake of Tuesday's protests by thousands of local residents against pollution from a nearby coal-fired power plant.

"I don't know, but they're detaining people," she said. "We are all against this."

Video footage

Video footage shot by protesters showed a large group of young people in clashes with riot police on a public road, with police using batons to beat people, and bystanders shouting "they're beating people."

A Haimen resident surnamed Chen said many of those involved in Wednesday's protests were students.

"There were some clashes," Chen said. "There were probably a few hundred people involved."

"Most of them were students and women. I heard they detained a few people again today," he said.

Chen said some of the protesters had gathered outside the Haimen township government buildings, scene of Tuesday's mass demonstration.

"Yes, [they did]," he said. "They took down some of the banners and placards that were hung outside the township government, last night and today."

Shantou municipal Party secretary Xie Zesheng was quoted by official media as saying that one person had suffered light injuries in Tuesday's clashes with police, and had been taken to a nearby hospital.

Xinhua news agency, countering rumors that three people had died in the clashes, said that the police used "light" force to disperse protesters.

Calls to the Haimen township government went unanswered during office hours on Wednesday. An employee who answered the police helpline declined to comment on the protests. "We haven't received any reports," the employee said. "I don't really know."

The authorities responded to Wednesday's mass protest in a township of
130,000 people with a promise to freeze construction of a second phase of the Haimen coal-fired power station, which is owned by Chinese energy giant Huaneng.

Promise doubt

But Chen said many local people were skeptical that the promise would be kept.

"People are still very worried," he said. "The leaders say they won't build any more, but they should sign something first to say they won't."

"They are wondering whether [what] the municipal Party secretary said counts for anything," he said. "Their minds won't be at ease until they know for sure that it won't be built."

"Haimen already has one [power plant]. It wouldn't be right if they built another one."

Reported by Fung Yat-yiu and Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese service, and by Qiao Long and Xin Yu for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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