Police Disperse Land Grab Protest

Residents want Beijing to investigate graft allegations around a property deal.

2010.07.19
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Suzhou Violence 305.jpg Villagers confront police in Tongan township, Suzhou, in an undated photo obtained July 2010.
Courtesy of a Tongan resident

HONG KONG—Thousands of people surrounded government offices near Suzhou's flagship high-tech industrial park in recent days, sparking clashes between riot police and residents angry over government appropriation of their land, residents said.

A resident of Tongan township, near the Suzhou High & New Technology Development Zone, said angry residents had surrounded the local Party chief in his office over the weekend, before the five-day protest was dispersed by riot police.

"There were a lot of people here [Saturday], and again in the middle of the night," the resident, identified by her surname, Huang, said.

"Some people also went to other places. It's because of the evictions and demolitions."

"They didn't get the [compensation] money they were supposed to get, and they all went to kick up a big stink down at the township government," she said.

"The township [Party] chief was inside the building. He didn't come out for a day and a night. He didn't get anything to eat or drink. There were a lot of riot police," said Huang, who ran away from the scene after being beaten herself.

"There was one woman who was bleeding from the head after being beaten, and was lying on the ground," she said.

"I was beaten too, and I ran away."

Calls to the Tongan township government went unanswered Sunday, while calls to the Tongan police station met with a recorded error message.

"Our local government will deal with this," an employee who answered the phone at the Suzhou municipal government said. "I expect it is still under negotiation."

Blogs carrying news

Authorities imposed a news blackout on the incident, but microblogging services and bloggers were relaying it across the Internet during the weekend, with some posts being deleted soon after appearing online.

"This evening, at around 8 p.m., the crowds captured a town bus and drove it across the main road," wrote user maminbo7712 on Twitter.

"They want to let Beijing know what is happening so they will send someone to sort it out."

A blogger identified as "Tongan Resident" said the authorities had been demolishing homes and evicting residents in large numbers ever since 2003, without undergoing any administrative procedures, and at compensation rates that were unilaterally decided by the township government.

Officials had used lies and violence to quell the protesting population, he wrote, and had hidden the fact that the project they were planning would call for more than 6,000 evictions.

All in all, residents estimated that local officials had skimmed off around 3.5 billion yuan (U.S. $516 million) in compensation funds, leaving residents out of pocket by around 30,000-40,000 yuan (U.S. $4,400-$5,900) per household, the Tongan blogger said.

According to a report on the website of Caijing Magazine, the protest started July 14 when thousands in the provincial capital of Jiangsu province gathered at the government headquarters, calling on the government to investigate their suspicions of graft.

Clashes reported

Faced with a negative response from government leaders, some residents smashed up equipment in the building and occupied the office over the next two days, the magazine reported.

Late Friday, residents clashed with riot police, some protesters were injured and others were taken away. The next day, thousands assembled on a highway and blocked traffic but were later dispersed by police, it added.

Protesters returned Sunday, their ranks swelled to 10,000. They also dispersed, the report said.

The Suzhou High & New Technology Development Zone is separate from the Singapore-invested Suzhou Industry Park, and has attracted a large number of multinational corporations.

China's Ministry of Land and Resources has called on local officials to make transparent the compensation of families evicted from their land to make way for property developments, a phenomenon that has led to tens of thousands of disputes and clashes every year.

But experts say the regulations governing compensation in land acquisitions are unlikely to help rural evictees unless local governments start abiding by the law.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Xin Yu. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated from the Chinese and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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