HONG KONG—More than 1,000 riot police sent into the southern Chinese village of Dongzhou to guard a key electricity pylon fired tear gas Thursday at protesters blockading the site, witnesses say.
“They used tear gas and scattered the crowd,” a Dongzhou resident at the scene told RFA’s Mandarin service. Earlier, several hundred villagers had converged, beating on cymbals, on the same intersection where police opened fire on Dec. 6, 2005. At about 4 p.m. local time, riot police fired tear gas to disperse them.
“It was right at the same crossroads where the Dec. 6 crackdown happened,” said the man, identified only by his surname Lin. “There are police at every road junction now, about 1,000 of them altogether. They have got a lot of bases covered.”
Roadblocks had been set up at every intersection in the village near the southern port city of Shanwei, where police opened fire with live ammunition on crowds two years ago, killing at least three local residents.
“We couldn’t get [to the site],” Lin told reporter Ding Xiao.
Villagers said they were now effectively prevented from getting to the pylon, which they have been blockading since the armed crackdown in 2005 brought a bloody end to their earlier attempts to blockade the power station. Residents say it was built on their land without fair compensation.
They used tear gas and scattered the crowd. It was right at the same intersection where the Dec. 6 crackdown happened.
Local government officials had put up several tents at the pylon site, and were apparently going to stay until the pylon was fully operational, villagers said.
“There are People’s Armed Police here, and riot police. We have every sort of police here right now,” a villager surnamed Chen said. “Some are wearing blue uniforms, some are in black. About 1,000 of them all told.”
“There are a couple of hundred official and police vehicles parked up at the intersection. Some of the leaders have come down from Shanwei, but I don’t know if anyone from the provincial government is here,” he added.
Repeated calls to the Dongzhou police station and the Honghaiwan police station went unanswered during office hours Thursday. On Friday, a government spokesman denied accounts of a new stand-off. Liu Jingmao, spokesman for the Shanwei city government, put the number of protesters at only "a few dozen" from a "tiny minority" of the villagers.
"They were restrained throughout so there hasn't been any clash," the Reuters news agency quoted Liu as saying.
"The construction of the power station and its grid resumed recently. The villagers just wanted to seize this chance to ask for more money," Liu said. "The overseas reports are completely unfounded. All lawful demands of the villagers have already been met. We will not discuss any unreasonable claims."
But he said the completion of the plant had been delayed by the protests for some time and "unpredictable incidents" might still occur before it started generating power, which could happen as early as January.
Residents said the number of villagers patrolling the protest site had dwindled in the face of the new reinforcements, and of two days of relentless government propaganda, including a televised announcement that was broadcast continually throughout the past two days.
“Take this opportunity, as time is running out. Make your way immediately to the police and turn yourselves in, and you will be dealt with leniently,” said the announcement, which went out in the local Cantonese dialect on all major local channels. “Because the law is a sacred and dignified thing.”
“It’s a psychological threat, because they broadcast very similar things just before the Dec. 6 incident,” said a villager surnamed Wu, who was listening to the broadcast at the time of the interview.
“That very evening, they opened fire. So it’s like a repeat of Dec. 6. So I won’t be going down there,” Wu said.
Officials had also arranged for a media clampdown surrounding the unrest, and the measures taken to contain it, setting up a roadside inspection point two days earlier to stop and question anyone coming into the village.
“They set up an inspection point on the road coming in from Tianqian in case any reporters tried to get into the village,” Lin said.
“They stopped anyone they didn’t know; anyone who looked like they came from elsewhere in China, and took them in for questioning,” he added.
Clashes had already taken place Friday between around 2,000 villagers and a band of 200 government-hired heavies who were sent to clear away protesters from the pylon site.
The villagers responded by throwing stones at the hired muscle, they said.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Ding Xiao. RFA Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.