Authorities in the central Chinese province of Henan have fired pepper spray at crowds of protesters amid clashes with thousands of residents angry over a forced eviction and demolition program, eyewitnesses told RFA.
Police and urban management officials, or chengguan, turned out in force with tear gas and pepper spray in a bid to subdue protests over demolitions in a suburb of Henan's Shangqiu city on Thursday, residents said on Friday.
Video of the protests showed large crowds surrounding stationary tanker-trucks on National Highway 310, scuffling with uniformed police who sprayed a substance from a can at them repeatedly.
Thousands of people milled around the line of halted vehicles, with a group of women attacking a uniformed officer with metal poles at one point, as drilling and construction noises sounded in the background.
Local residents said the crowd was protesting at the mass demolition of Xu Tong village in Shangqiu's Liangyuan district after they were awarded compensation at far below market rates.
"The chengguan and the police from the local police station were using tear gas and pepper spray on the villagers," a resident surnamed Huo said. "An old man got knocked to the ground and was [injured]."
"Seven or eight people were injured and are in the hospital right now, and an old lady and an old man were beaten until they were seriously injured," he said, adding that the two elderly people were in a critical condition.
He said local people were furious that the demolition teams had moved in with no formal notice given to residents.
"There was no compensation plan in place, and people wanted a public meeting about this, but they decided not to bother with any of that," Huo said. "Now they have suppressed any information, and they will detain anyone who tried to complain."
"There are no options open to us."
Another resident surnamed Yu said Liangyuan district officials had informed people just 10 days earlier that they were requisitioning the land, and that they should move away.
She said several thousand people from around 600 households scheduled for demolition had gathered outside municipal government offices in Shangqiu on hearing the news, but that several people had been detained, and nobody dared go again.
"They told us that they would compensate us at a rate of 800 yuan (U.S. $116) per square meter, but property around here costs between 4,000 and 5,000 yuan (U.S. $581 and $726) per square meter," Yu said. "That means we would be unable to afford a new apartment."
"The government didn't give us proper notice ... they wouldn't even tell us plainly what they were planning to build there," she said. "That's why we resisted the demolitions."
Relocation, not rehousing
An official who answered the phone at the Liangyuan district construction bureau said demolition work had yet to begin at Xu Tong village.
"Our leaders are in the process of dealing with this matter," the official said. "Nothing has formally started yet."
An official in the same office contacted separately confirmed that local people were being offered 864 yuan (U.S. $125) per square meter. "This is local land, not state land, which would be compensated at 2,800 yuan (U.S. $407) per square meter," the official said.
He said the homes were being demolished to allow the widening of National Highway 310.
"They want to be rehoused in the same area, but we are trying to get them to move elsewhere, further north," the official said. "Effectively, it's relocation rather than rehousing in the same place, and that's where the conflict has arisen."
"They don't want to go any further than about a mile to the east."
The official denied anyone had been injured except for an elderly man who was knocked about accidentally in the crowd.
Henan-based online activist Wang Kunlun said it is illegal for the government to move people out of privately-owned property without official documentation and prior compensation.
"The local people need to be satisfied with the arrangements before you can [demolish their homes]," he said.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.