FOUR DEAD AS TRAIN PLOWS THROUGH CHINESE LAND PROTEST


2003-12-12
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Residents from Henan province were protesting forced evictions

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Four people have died and a further seven have been injured in the central Chinese province of Henan, after an express train cut through a protest against forced evictions which had gathered on the main Beijing to Guangdong railway line, RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese services report.

The incident happened after more than 1,000 local residents gathered on the railway line Dec. 11, in the Yuanhui district of Luohe city, the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said in a statement Friday.

One of those killed was a local police officer, and two others have been identified as Zhang Shuijun and Chen Guiying. A total of 11 people were knocked down by the train, which was traveling south on the railway line at high speed.

Tensions began to rise in October, when the Luohe government ordered 200 houses built by farmers in a village called Zhao demolished, without saying why, and without offering compensation, the Information Center said. The houses had been standing for three years.

On Wednesday, the city government sent 100 enforcers to the village to forcibly demolish the houses, and they beat villagers who tried to stop them. Ten people were injured, four seriously, it said. The local deputy police chief, Kong Hongwei, was among the seriously injured.

The following morning, 1,000 people marched to the Luohe government to protest. When no official would come out to speak to them, they blocked the main railway line that connects the Chinese capital, Beijing, with the southern city of Guangzhou.

One eyewitness contacted by RFA confirmed the Center's report. "At the very least there were five, six or seven, eight hundred people there. Yes, there were definitely that many," said the Luohe resident, identified by his surname Zhang.

"The incident has probably gotten the central government�s attention as well, although Luohe is a small, closed city. But the newspapers and TV stations in Henan have not reported on this," he said.

More than 50 police officers were sent to break up the protest. At 10:55 a.m. Thursday, an express train came through and hit 11 people, killing the four.

The incident was reported by the official Xinhua news agency, which reported four deaths and three serious injuries in a train accident. It said the farmers had quarreled with construction officials over relocation, and that the police officer who died had been trying to prevent the accident.

The requisition of land by local governments and state-owned enterprises has become one of the most controversial topics in both urban and rural areas in China, as new roads, factories, and housing and office developments have sprung up nationwide.

Local residents evicted from their homes often complain of poor government compensation and forceful removals, while many accuse the government of cashing in on the real estate market at their expense. Some residents' groups in urban areas have lodged class-action suits against local governments and developers.

Chinese attorneys and legal scholars have denounced the now-widespread aggressive demolition and relocation practices as government-sponsored thuggery, which China's weak judicial system is failing to check. #####

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