Thousands Clash With Chinese Police Amid Protests Over School Demolition

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china-farmers-harvest-peanuts-shandong-sept7-2016.jpg Farmers harvest peanuts in a village in eastern China's Shandong province, Sept. 7, 2016.

Several thousand protesters in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong clashed with police on Tuesday in a bid to stop the demolition of a local primary school.

Video footage shown to RFA showed residents of Peijiaying village near the provincial capital, Jinan, waving wooden sticks and hurling objects at a row of police officers in full riot gear.

Villagers massed outside the village's only elementary school, ranged behind school desks piled high with loose bricks, and under banners that accused local officials of corruption.

"Give us back justice!" read one banner. "Give us a way forward!"

Others, signed by "all residents of Peijiaying village" accused the village committee of "emptying the bank account."

Protesters clashed on Tuesday with several hundred demolition workers who arrived to begin work, leaving an unknown number of people injured, they said.

The dispute over the sale of the school against the wishes of local people has been simmering since last month, but the arrival of a demolition team on Tuesday sparked the clashes, local residents said.

"This morning, around 800 or 900 people arrived out of nowhere [to demolish the school]," a protest leader surnamed Li told RFA.

"The villagers staged a sit-in to block them at the school gates," he said. "People got cold later in the evening and were burning pieces of wood to keep warm."

"They came towards us with fire extinguishers and put out the fire, and then they also sprayed them on the people there, and that's how the clashes were triggered," Li said.

"They were the ones who started beating up the villagers," he said. "Four or five people were injured, and the worst injured was sent to the Jinan No. 3 People's Hospital with a fractured skull and intracranial bleeding."

"The man, who is 58 years old, is in a coma right now, and the doctor said his condition is critical," Li added.

No consultation

The villagers say the local village committee sold off Peijiaying's primary school without consulting local residents, and that the proceeds from the sale are unaccounted for.

They have mounted an all-night vigil outside the school gates for the past month in a bid to prevent its demolition by stealth, local sources said.

The school was built in 1995 after some 4,000 villagers pooled savings totaling 2 million yuan (U.S. $295,000) to pay for it, Li said.

With around 200 pupils, it serves a population of just over 4,000.

After the school was earmarked for demolition under plans to extend Jinan's subway network out to Peijiaying, the village committee accepted a payout of 4 million yuan (U.S. $589,000) in compensation from the developer without consulting those who had invested in the school, he said.

Villagers said they aren't opposing the subway line extension, but rather disputing the level of compensation for their investment.

"The leaders of our village didn't call a full meeting of all the villagers, so we didn't approve this deal, and we didn't accept the amount offered," Li said.

"People started guarding the school voluntarily, night and day, rain or shine," he said. "There have been 70 or 80 older women there round the clock for nearly a month now."

An officer who answered the phone at nearby Baoshan police station declined to comment on the clashes.

"Journalists have to go through the propaganda department, and we will give you an interview if they agree to it," the officer said.

A second villager said on Tuesday the village is basically "surrounded" by the demolition team and police.

"We are surrounded by a large number of people, more than 800 or 900, who started clashes with local people, not the other way around," the man said.

He said he had also seen local police chief Wang Hongjun at the scene: "He was wearing plain clothes, and he was right there at the scene, but he didn't stop this from happening."

"Our village chief didn't do anything either. He hasn't even shown his face," the villager said.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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