Chinese Villagers Push for Democracy Amid Dispute

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china-shangpu-clash-march-2013.jpg Children play around smashed and overturned cars in Shangpu village following a land clash, March 2, 2013.

Residents of Guangdong's Shangpu village are calling for democratic elections to replace their village head, who has been detained following allegations of corruption over the sale of farmland that sparked clashes late last month.

The public campaign calling for open elections came amid a tense standoff with authorities after the violent clashes between local residents and thugs they said were recruited by local government officials.

With the main street in the village lined with wrecked cars, metal and glass from the clashes, villagers are guarding the entrance to the area, watched over by dozens of wary police and officials, Agence France-Presse reported on Sunday.

The Jiexi county police department, which oversees Shangpu, announced on Saturday that it had detained eight people in connection with the clashes.

Shangpu village committee chairman Li Baoyu is currently being held under criminal detention on suspicion of "attacking the people," police said.

Shangpu resident Li Yuezhong said his position was being temporarily filled by another official, Li Kaiwen.

"When this incident was over, we demanded that the government immediately begin to make preparations for a re-election," he said. "The irresponsible offficial, Li Baoyu, has already been detained, because he didn't stick to the rules."

"When [the last village leader] stepped down, Li Baoyu wasn't elected by the villagers," he said. "He was always talking about democracy, but the villagers didn't support him, so how could he do the job?"

Li is accused of fraudulently gathering signatures in support of the transfer of 33 hectares (82 acres) of farmland to a company named Wanfeng Investment. It was ostensibly to be used for factories producing electrical cables.


While China has compensation rules for farmland based on the expected yield of a piece of land, villagers often complain that they never see the money, which is appropriated by the village committee for their own ends.

Shangpu villagers fear the same thing will happen to them, adding that the market value of the land lease is far above the price of the rice that could be grown on it.

Jiexi county has pledged to pursue those responsible for last month's attack and bring criminal prosecutions.

A second Shangpu resident, also surnamed Li, said officials from Jieyang city, which oversees Shangpu, had visited the village on Sunday and held meetings with around a dozen representatives of local people.

"We put forward a number of demands, the most important of which was that we want to see the [land use transfer] contract," Li said. "But the government couldn't produce it."

"They said it had been thrown out, but the county government hasn't come to sort it out yet."

Li said that many villagers were still at home recovering from injuries sustained the clashes.

"Most of them are being treated at home, maybe five or six people," he said. "They dare not go to the hospital, because they are afraid of those thugs."

Local residents said they feared a further crackdown ahead of the annual meeting of China's parliamentary body, the National People's Congress (NPC), which opens on Tuesday, AFP said.

China’s parliament is widely seen as a “rubber stamp” whose hand-picked members do the bidding of the ruling party. Chinese leaders have repeatedly ruled out Western-style democracy for the country.

Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin service and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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