CHINESE FARMERS PROTEST RELOCATION PLANS


2003-08-20
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Farmers in the northern Chinese province of Shaanxi have marched to their local Communist Party offices protesting plans to relocate them to make way for an expanding industrial development zone, RFA reports.

"About 60 people sat in front of the provincial government building... More than 900 families out of 1,080 have signed the agreement. So it's just a small number of people who were inciting others," said a county official who asked to be identified only by his surname, Li.

The farmers went to provincial party headquarters in Xian despite warnings from local county police officers, who advised them against going. They carried a letter of complaint but had not yet received an answer, Li said.

Residents of Gaoliu village, near the provincial capital of Xian, say the government has no right to order them to leave their homes, as the enlargement was taking place without approval from China's cabinet, the State Council.

The relocation order affects 4,800 people from 1,080 families, sources told RFA's Mandarin service.

The county government has offered the farmers 195,000 yuan (U.S. $23,500) per hectare in compensation, according to a local official.

But local villagers say the amount on offer was much less. "The compensation is very little, about 10,000 yuan per hectare... That's why many don't want to move, but the government is pressuring them to," one villager said in an interview.

China has seen a proliferation of investment zones in recent years, which offer tax breaks and other concessions to foreign investors. However, under terms of its entry agreements to the World Trade Organization, the government is moving towards a level playing field for foreign and domestic enterprises alike.

The authorities now favor the establishment of economic and high-tech development zones approved in Beijing, to be used specifically to upgrade the technological level of Chinese industry.

It was unclear whether the Jinghe Industrial zone near Gaoliu was a State Council approved zone, or a local authority initiative, which would have potentially less legitimacy in the eyes of Beijing.

China is rapidly acquiring a tradition of popular protest against government actions that are seen as corrupt and unfair. So far, protests have been sporadic, and linked to the specific interests of certain groups.

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