HONG KONG—Police in the northwestern Chinese province of Gansu have arrested more than 100 people after thousands of farmers fought with police in the midst of protests over a land dispute.
“One hundred seventeen people were arrested at the scene [Tuesday] but no one was arrested today,” an officer at the Longnan city police bureau said in an interview. He also said some 200 police had been mobilized to bring the situation under control.
Witnesses said armed police were guarding government buildings, and local hospitals were treating an unknown number of people injured in the clashes.
Many places have been deserted after buildings were torn down. A lot of people have no land to farm and no place to live."
Local resident Wang
The Longnan city Web site said police had used force to disperse the crowd as a last resort after protesters attacked police and officials with stones, steel pipes, and bricks, and set fire to motorcycles, bicycles, and buildings.
The official statement put the size of the crowd at 1,000 but numerous witnesses said it was many times that number.
A resident surnamed Zhou said he had seen about a dozen vehicles transporting armed police to the area, who then searched and arrested more than 100 people.
A farmer, also surnamed Zhou, said shops in Wu Du district were closed for a second day on Wednesday.
"When I went out to the street this morning, all the shops were closed. There were six or seven farmers walking by the street, and then suddenly the police were beating them up and taking them away," she said.
Very few pedestrians are walking on the street. It's like a ghost town."
"Very few pedestrians are walking on the street. It's like a ghost town," she said, adding that police were checking identification papers of anyone trying to travel to neighboring areas.
After farmers from Dongjiang township gathered around local Communist Party headquarters for a second day, authorities deployed Longnan city police to quell crowds angered by the compensation they were offered for their land.
Witnesses said police used batons and tear-gas to quell the riot, in which the city Web site said farmers attacked officials and set fire to property.
Another farmer surnamed Zhou who took part in the protest said demonstrators were angered over their treatment by police removing them from a building site on Nov. 17, prompting a larger crowd to return the next day.
Injured being treated
One staff member at the Chinese Medicine Hospital said authorities had told all local work units to stay away from the riot, not to spread rumors, and avoid discussing the riot in public.
“Many armed police carrying shields moved in and blocked the roads near the municipal government buildings. The situation has returned to normal now,” said the staff member, who asked not to be named.
The Chinese Medicine Hospital was treating “about 10 people,” the staff member said. “Many were innocent bystanders. Only one person is in critical condition—the others will be fine.”
Staff members also reported that five people injured in the riots were being treated at the 1st People’s Hospital of Wudu district, while three people with non-life-threatening head injuries were being treated at the 1st People’s Hospital of Longnan city.
‘No place to live’
A local woman surnamed Wang described desperation on the part of many farmers.
“Many places have been deserted after buildings were torn down. A lot of people have no land to farm and no place to live,” Wang said.
“We saw more than a dozen truckloads of police who used teargas to disperse the crowd. We all saw the injured lying on the ground inside the municipal government compound. The roads are still blocked by police,” she added.
Several thousand mu (one hectare equals about six mu) from six villages in Dongjiang had been appropriated for the project as part of a plan to construct a new road in the area, a local man surnamed He said.
He said the Longnan city government sanctioned the land use earlier in the year, but farmers rejected the move when they found the compensation inadequate. Since then, he said, the farmers had petitioned unsuccessfully several times.
Then, on Nov. 17, nearly 1,000 protesters attacked a local Communist Party headquarters in Longnan, touching off riots that injured officials, police, and protesters.
The protest began with a small group of people angered over the demolition of their homes to make way for the road, but grew to as many as 1,000 as more people joined the demonstration, he said.
'Situation under control'
An official from the local Communist Party, surnamed Wang, acknowledged the clashes but denied any death or injuries.
“There were some residents petitioning and armed police were deployed to maintain order. This is normal. Maybe the petitioners went too far so the police tried to stop them. We did not beat the residents, not even one,” the Party official said.
Land-related protests are increasingly common across China, as local officials and developers sign lucrative property deals, often with scant compensation and little discussion.
Legal challenges to such developments are rarely effective, and complaints lodged after the event can be ignored for decades, with those trying to pursue them frequently monitored and detained.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Ding Xiao and in Cantonese by Feng Rui Yao. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Written and produced for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.