Authorities in the southeastern Chinese city of Fuzhou beat and turned away hundreds of petitioners who tried to attend a listening session held by local leaders to protest government requisition of their farmland, activists said on Tuesday.
"Today, there were 500 or 600 of us villagers ... We are farmers who have lost their land from three villages under the same township," said a petitioner surnamed Lin from Qiufeng village, near the provincial capital of Fujian province.
He said the meeting had been swamped by villagers wanting to complain about land grabs and alleged corruption.
"The villagers want some action against corruption," Lin said. "We estimate that between 100 million (U.S. $15.8 million) and 200 million yuan (U.S. $31.6 million) of collective funds has gone missing."
"We went there and started to queue at 4:00 a.m. this morning, but the mayor wouldn't meet with us," he said. "They said they had already met with us at the last meeting."
Instead, police had formed a protective cordon around Fuzhou mayor Yang Yimin, who held a government listening session for citizens on Tuesday.
"There were 200-300 people protecting the mayor as he left," Lin said. "One old man was beaten up; he was over 70 years old. The police beat him and then immediately ran away again."
He said villagers were protesting against alleged corruption in relation to sales of their farmland, but that attempts to register complaints with central government in Beijing had proved fruitless.
According to Lin Fazhen, a resident of Xiyuan village in Fuzhou's Xindian district, conflicts between local farming communities and government officials had intensified with the expansion of Fuzhou's administrative boundaries into surrounding countryside in recent years.
City officials had been taking over large tracts of farmland in order to build warehouses, and village officials had been skimming off large portions of funding earmarked for compensation payments to villagers, he said.
"Our local Party secretary only gave out 2,000 yuan (U.S. $315) [per mu] in compensation, when the government had set the rate at 3,580 yuan (U.S. $565) [per mu]," Lin Fazhen said.
Villagers said repeated attempts to complain about their treatment to the central government in Beijing had been in vain.
Lin said local officials were all protecting each other. "Our local district and township government officials are so corrupt, and they are all in it together," he said.
"If we complain [to a higher level], they still leave things up to our village committee to decide."
In China, all land is ultimately owned by the state, but is allocated to rural communities under collective contract and through the household responsibility system that replaced the state-run farms and communes of the Mao era.
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.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.