Shots Fired in Land Protest

Police in southern China clash with residents over a government attempt to take over a forested area in their village.

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china-land-305.jpg Chinese villagers protest government land seizures in Guilin, Guangxi province, Oct. 9, 2010.

Land protesters in the southern Chinese region of Guangxi said a number of people were detained and at least one person injured after shots were fired into the crowd during clashes with police in the city of Heshan earlier this week, sparking further protests on Friday.

"Criminal gangs alongside officials from the Heli village government in Heshan city opened fire on local people," a user identified as @zhutaijing wrote on the popular Tencent microblogging service, detailing clashes which local residents said took place on Tuesday.

"They have also been detaining people left and right," the user wrote. "Who can help us?"

A second user identified as @woshiluomanshuanglingcun added: "There are clashes between the villagers and the police! Both sides are fighting!"

"The police have beaten up some villagers, and fired their guns at them," the user wrote. "A lot of people have been injured or detained already."

"The local farmers have stones, while the police have guns. Five people have been shot, and seven have been detained," the post said.

Nearby residents said the Heli villagers were resisting an attempt by the Heshan city government to take over 10 mu (about 2 acres) of forested hills in the village.

Shots confirmed

Repeated calls to the Heli village government offices and to the Heshan municipal government offices went unanswered during office hours on Friday. An employee who answered the phone at the village agricultural machinery depot confirmed some of the reports.

"Yes, [there are clashes] but I don't know what it's all about," the employee said. "I only heard they were fighting with the police, but I don't know anything about the actual details."

Asked if anyone had been shot, he answered: "Yes, people in the village."

But he declined to say more. "I don't know the details," he said.

An officer who answered the phone at the Heli village police station declined to comment.

"I don't know the actual situation," the officer said, when asked if shots were fired. "I didn't go there."

'Many injured'

A local resident surnamed Li from an adjacent village confirmed the microblog reports, however.

"This is the village next door to ours," he said. "It is pretty serious; a lot of people were injured."

Asked if the police had opened fire on protesters, he said: "Yes, they did, with those [hand]guns that they always carry; I don't know what kind those are."

Li said around 200 police officers had been at the scene when the clashes erupted. "There were more than 200...the police from the next county came too," he said.

He said the villagers had been protesting over an attempt by the local government to take over their land in the forested hills nearby, saying that they would have no way to make a living any more.

"A lot of people came to complain at the gates of the [Heshan] municipal government offices, today and yesterday," Li said. "[The villagers] had responsibility for the land, to plant trees on it," he said.

Shared land

In China, all land is ultimately owned by the state, but is allocated to urban property owners via a long-term leasing system and to rural communities via collective contract and the household responsibility system.

Land acquisition for development, often resulting in lucrative property deals for local officials, sparks thousands of protests by local communities across China every month, many of which escalate into clashes with police.

Li said the villagers were demanding the return of their land. "They want justice to be done," he said. "[The Chinese media] didn't report it, so we'll have to wait for you people to report it."

Keyword searches of the Chinese Internet showed no search results for the clashes among the country's tightly controlled media.

Police presence

A resident of nearby Shuangling village, also surnamed Li, said tensions were still running high, with police stationed around Heli village, checking identities and preventing people from entering or leaving their villages.

"The authorities sent a lot of criminal gang members into the village, carrying big sticks and knives and other weapons," she said. "They won't let the villagers leave, and the villagers are all frightened and don't dare to leave their homes."

"They don't dare to talk about it, either," Ms. Li added.

She said the authorities had sent hundreds of reinforcements into Heli on Tuesday. "The streets were full of police that day," she said. "The main intersection was blocked up with several dozens of their vehicles."

"They beat up or detained anyone who continued to protest."

Ms. Li said the dispute had flared after the Heshan municipal government tried to take over more than 10 mu (about 2 acres) of rural land, affecting the livelihoods of nearly 600 people.

She said the authorities had likely decided to crack down on the villagers' resistance efforts after they tried to file a complaint with the central government in Beijing.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service and by Fung Yat-yiu for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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