HONG KONG, March 30, 2004�In a three-day standoff that has blocked a major road in the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing, police have descended on several hundred elderly people protesting government plans to relocate them and beaten at least two couples, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports.
�They should get us a place to live first, and then we will move. Instead they send the police here to beat the older people. I saw it myself. There are several vanloads of police, several hundred people,� one retired protester told RFA�s Mandarin service.
Around 600 people were still blocking the road March 29. That followed three days of sit-ins after a newspaper announced that residents would have just one month to leave the area, which was scheduled for redevelopment by Hong Kong-based property developer Shui On, local residents told RFA. They said more than 1,000 residents had protested March 27. �There are about 600 people there, basically local residents,� one woman said. �Most of them are older people, employees.�
A man who answered the phone at the Yuzhong district police station said: �We are dealing with it.� But he denied that clashes had occurred between police and protesters. However, a woman at the Hualongqiao neighborhood committee office said she had heard reports of clashes. �I am not too clear about it, but I have heard people describe them,� she said.
An official at the Yuzhong district government said officials had worked hard to defuse rumors that the developer had originally given the government 4,200 yuan (U.S. $490) per square meter in compensation�but that the government would then give only 2,000 yuan to residents. �That�s absolutely not true. Not at all. The developer wouldn�t give enough compensation so the government has had to subsidize the compensation on top of what they are giving,� she said. When asked if residents had been consulted beforehand on the compensation arrangements, she said: �I�m not too clear about that.�
A spokeswoman for the developer said she believed Shui On�s compensation budget totalled 1.3 billion yuan (U.S. $157 million).
�Today they are still blocking the road although they stopped a while at lunchtime, when a few vehicles managed to get through, but they haven�t been able to get through since. They are sitting in the middle of the road,� an employee at a Revolutionary Museum near the site of the sit-in said. �They haven�t been given enough time to find somewhere else to live. They are expected to leave within a month. Suddenly, it just appeared in the newspaper on Saturday morning. That�s why there has been such a big reaction, that�s why they�re blocking the road,� the woman said. She said government plans for replacement housing had not yet even broken ground, leaving residents effectively homeless. �They don�t answer us. They just send police to beat us. Old men, old women, they beat us like dogs,� she said.
Eyewitnesses reported two separate beating incidents, one at around 9 a.m. Sunday, of an elderly couple who were shouting, and at 10 a.m., in which a middle-aged woman was beaten face down on the ground by a large group of police officers, who later turned on her husband.
One retiree who asked not to be named said her own pension and that of her husband added up to 700 yuan per month�and that even with the proposed compensation it wouldn�t amount to enough for them to secure a place to live. �We don�t want money. We just want an apartment,� the woman said.
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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