Guangdong Anti-Graft Activists Held After Clashes on High-Speed Rail Line

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A bullet train leaves the railway station in Shenzhen, south China's Guangdong province, Feb. 6, 2015.
A bullet train leaves the railway station in Shenzhen, south China's Guangdong province, Feb. 6, 2015.

Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have detained an unknown number of people after clashes between police and protesters over allegations of official corruption, local residents said on Friday.

Riot police fired tear-gas after dozens of residents of Mashan village near Guangdong's Puning city invaded a nearby high-speed railway station, forcing trains to a temporary halt, protesters said.

"Some villagers did invade the high-speed railway station and sit on the tracks," Chen said. "But this was a civilized protest."

"The police fired flares and tear-gas at them," he said. "They also detained some of them."

Chen said the clashes had lasted into the early hours of Friday, local time.

"At about 2 a.m., they broadcast an announcement ordering all villagers to meet outside the gates of the village government offices," he said. "But nobody came out, because they were afraid it was a trap."

Chen added: "Then, at about 2 a.m., they bashed down the doors of some of the activists and detained them in their homes."

He said the authorities had also cut off cell phone, landline and Internet access to the entire village.

Attempts to search Chinese-language search engines with the words "Mashan village" yielded a message on Friday declining to show results.

Those detained were being held on suspicion of "gathering a crowd to disturb public order," a charge often used against those who hold demonstrations, Hong Kong's South China Morning Post newspaper reported.

More than 40 villagers ran onto the railway station platform after tearing down fencing around the station, the paper quoted local officials as saying.

An officer who answered the phone at the Puning municipal police department on Friday declined to comment on the incident.

Investigative team

The railway sit-in comes after months of complaints from Mashan residents over alleged corrupt practices by their local officials linked to local property deals, village finances, housing allocation and access to water resources.

According to the government statement, an investigative team was sent to Mashan to hear residents' complaints and had resolved some problems, such as returning land that had been sold illegally and providing funds for water supplies.

But the villagers had ignored their efforts, and escalated their protest from peaceful petitioning to serious law-breaking actions with severe social implications, the statement said.

Chen dismissed the official version of events, however.

"They keep saying that they want to help us, and that they sent 400 people to our village to sort out the problems," Chen said.

"But the villagers were asking for the arrest of the corrupt officials, and the return of our land," he said. "They did neither of those things."

"All they did was warn them, not arrest them. That was several months ago," Chen said.

Accusations on social media

Posts on Chinese social media sites have accused Mashan village officials of the sale of local land for private gain over the past decade, prompting repeated petitions and protests from local residents.

President Xi Jinping has vowed to go after both high-ranking "tigers" and low-ranking "flies" in a nationwide anti-graft campaign in which saw the indictment of former security chief Zhou Yongkang on Friday.

But the ruling Chinese Communist Party regards any popular involvement in the anti-corruption campaign as highly sensitive and potentially threatening, and has already sentenced a number of activists to jail for calling on officials to make details of their assets public.

Land grabs and forced evictions linked to lucrative property deals by cash-hungry local governments trigger thousands of mass protests across China every year, although many result in violent suppression and the detention of the main organizers.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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