Protests Intensify After Clashes

Residents are furious as land grabbed by the government remains idle for years.

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A screen capture from video submitted by eyewitnesses shows police vans overturned in a street in Lufeng city, Sept 22, 2011.
Eyepress News

Hundreds of local residents continued to protest a government land grab on Friday, following several days of unrest in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong.

Armed police and riot police remain on patrol in Guangdong's Lufeng city, as protests entered their third day amid rage over the takeover of the residents' farmland and inadequate compensation paid by the authorities.

The land has been lying idle for years, and recent reportssubsequently denied by the authoritieshave said that it was sold to a developer.

Meanwhile, the mayor of Lufeng has pledged to respond to local residents' concerns within 10 days, protesters said.

A local resident surnamed Yang said he had taken part in initial protests on Wednesday.

"The entire village went to the municipal government carrying banners saying 'Give us back our farmland'," Yang said. "Everyone signed their names on a sheet of white cloth. I took part myself."

He estimated that around 3,000-4,000 people took part in Wednesday's demonstration.

"The mayor came out to speak to us, saying that he would get back to us within 10 days [about the land sale]," Yang said.

On Friday, several hundred protesters gathered outside municipal government offices in Lufeng city, banging gongs and chanting "Give us our land back." Some carried banners that read: "Return our farmland!"

Villagers from Donghai township and Wukan village, which are administered by the nearby cities of Lufeng and Shanwei, have been protesting over government seizure of farmland in their district for days, with some marching to government offices, and others blocking a local highway.

Armed police

By late Thursday, authorities in Shanwei city had dispatched several hundred armed police and riot police to the area to disperse protesters, detaining several people.

The detentions sparked further violence, as protesters attacked the local police station and overturned two police cars, demanding the release of the detainees.

"They say the four people who were detained ... haven't been released yet," a local resident said late Thursday. "The police were here again today, beating people up."

"It happened near the police station," she added. "They hurt a lot of people, and they've all been taken to hospital."

Among the injured were two 13-year-old schoolchildren, according to a second resident surnamed Chen.

"The armed police and the special police were the first to start beating people up," Chen said. "It was over near the ... police station and the market."

"At about 10.00 a.m. [Thursday], the villagers were having a meeting, when they suddenly drove up and starting beating people," he said.

"After they beat people up, the villagers got very angry and started smashing up the police cars ... They probably smashed about four."

Chen said more than a dozen villagers were injured in the clashes. "They were injured with police batons," he said.

"There were two 13-year-old schoolchildren ... their condition was quite serious," he said.

Police cars damaged

A statement on the Shanwei government website accused protesters of attacking government buldings, injuring more than a dozen police officers and damaging six police vehicles.

An officer who answered the phone at the Wukan Border Police Station on Thursday declined to comment on the incident.

"We have no time, no time," he said. "You will have to go to our superiors and ask them."

Villagers were protesting that they had only received 500 yuan (U.S. $78) in compensation per person after several years of petitioning over the loss of their farmland, which was being held unused by the government for several years amid a steep rise in property prices.

On Wednesday, they took to the streets in their thousands after hearing reports that the land had recently been sold to a developer.

"When we got the [Lufeng] municipal government they told us that they hadn't sold that piece of land," Chen said.

"They have been sitting on that land and not using it, while more than 10,000 people in our area have no land to cultivate," he said.

Last June, a similar dispute sparked clashes in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang.

Authorities mobilized security forces to quell popular unrest after a confrontation over compensation between local villagers and a gas station built on their farmland turned violent.

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.

China already sees thousands of "mass incidents" across the country every year, according to official statistics, many of which are protests or sit-ins linked to forced evictions, allegations of corruption, and disputes over rural land sales.

Reported by Ding Xiao for RFA's Mandarin service and by Ho Shan for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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