Clashes Over Xian Metro

Tensions in China over subway construction take a violent turn.

2009-09-02
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Zeng Chengmin-305.jpg Zeng Chengmin, 63, lies dead following a clash in Xian.
Photo appears courtesy of local villagers.

HONG KONG—Villagers in the ancient Chinese city of Xian have called for an investigation into the death of an elderly man following clashes between police and local residents angry at the way their land was requisitioned for the city's new subway system.

Chang'an district resident Zeng Chengmin, 63, was declared dead in a Xian hospital on Aug. 28 after scores of security guards visited his home and attacked family members there, relatives said.

His nephew, Zeng Weitao, said he would pursue those responsible through the criminal justice system.

"The police are currently investigating the case, but only one person [Li Jianqiang] has been detained out of a couple of dozen attackers,” he added.

More than 100 villagers faced off with construction workers in Chang'an's Xiaozhai village Aug. 15 after the team arrived there with bulldozers, ready to begin work on Line 2 of the new Xian metro system, which began construction in 2006.

Dragged behind minibus

The same night, security guards visited activist Zeng Weitao and attacked him and his family with bricks and shovels, he said.

Zeng Chengmin was dragged 30 meters (yards) behind a minibus after he tried to stop the attackers from leaving.

A police officer who answered the phone at the nearby Weiqu police station declined to comment on Zeng's death.

"Sorry, I have nothing to say on the matter," the officer said.

And a man who identified himself as the dead man's son-in-law declined to be interviewed.

"The authorities here in China are already involved, and you are not supposed to be reporting this," the man said. "We do not want to give any interviews."

A Xiaozhai villager surnamed Li said clashes had occurred between local residents and the authorities seven or eight times since the land deal was announced.

"They didn't hand out the money [promised for compensation]. Instead they forcibly started construction," he said.

"The fact that someone has been killed will eventually be discovered ... It wasn't until [Aug. 28] that they started to hand out the compensation funds of 20,000 yuan (about U.S. $3,000) per person. They are not finished yet," Li added.

"The issue of the man's death hasn't yet been settled."

Large subway planned

Li said the proposed compensation rate of 70,000 yuan (U.S. $10,250) per mu (0.06 hectares) was never discussed with the villagers.

"The township government and the village officials signed the agreement after discussing it among themselves. We villagers didn't know anything about it," he said.

The Xian No. 2 subway line, which links the city's North Railway Station to Weiqu in the south, has 20 stations and is expected to open in 2011.

It will be built 20 meters (yards) underground to protect a 13.7-km (8.5-mile) city wall dating back to the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

A construction plan for Xian approved by the State Council provides for six subway lines with a total length of 251.8 kms (156 miles).

Land disputes have spread across China in recent years, with local people often complaining that they receive only minimal compensation when the government sells tracts to developers in lucrative property deals.

Attempts to occupy disputed land frequently result in violent clashes, as police and armed gangs are brought in to enforce the will of local officials.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Ding Xiao. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Additional translation by Chen Ping. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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