HONG KONG—Up to 2,000 police are guarding a key electricity pylon in the southern Chinese village of Dongzhou, and they have fired multiple rounds of tear gas to disperse crowds of protesters, witnesses say.
Witnesses told RFA’s Mandarin service that 1,000 more police were sent in Dec. 22, in addition to some 1,000 police sent in earlier.
“Saturday was winter solstice. The authorities in Shanwei dispatched an additional 1,000 or so police,” said one villager, who asked to be identified only by his surname, Lin. Thousands of villagers had gathered, he said. "The police said they were blocking the main thoroughfare and ordered them dispersed. They fired a lot of tear gas.”
Security forces including armed police are blocking the road to the power station in Dongzhou, a fishing village where three men were shot dead two years ago when police cracked down on a protest against the electricity pylon. Residents say the actual death toll was higher, and they are enraged at what they regard as meager compensation for land expropriated by the government to build the plant.
It’s really getting serious. The villagers have dispersed. They got us...We did not get compensation for the land grab and now they have begun to arrest people. We are peasants. We cannot fight the officials.
“The electricity pylon is almost completed. And they have stepped up the work. I have heard that the police will be here for one month. There are police all over the project and on the hill,” Lin said.
Many Dongzhou migrant workers had returned home to the village for the winter solstice, and several thousand villagers had tried to travel to the site of the pylon but were blocked by police, witnesses said. A standoff ensued mid-morning Saturday, and police fired repeated rounds of tear-gas, they said. By 4 p.m., the crowd had dispersed.
“It’s really getting serious. The villagers have dispersed. They got us,” said another villager, who asked to be identified only by his surname, Wu. “We did not get compensation for the land grab and now they have begun to arrest people. We are peasants. We cannot fight the officials.”
Duty officers at the Shanwei Public Security Bureau, contacted by telephone on Wednesday, hung up soon after hearing the word “Dongzhou.”
This clash is one among many increasingly frequent disputes throughout China between officials and residents, who complain of having to cede ownership of their land for the construction of new factories, malls, and other projects for little or no compensation.
On Monday, Dec. 24 , a villager identified as Wei Tuo was placed under criminal detention on charges of “willfully harming others.” Wei Tuo is the fifth villager detained in the last two weeks.
“The official notice says he has been placed under criminal detention,” Lin said. “On Dec. 14, Wei beat and injured a man connected with organized crime who was guarding the electricity pylon. But the official notice says the man was part of the crew working on the project.”
Other villagers have accused the police of collaborating with elements of organized crime.
“There are a lot of people in front of my store,” a shopkeeper who asked to be identified by his surname, Wu, said. “I cannot speak too loudly. They are looking around. Officials have hired thugs to patrol the streets, to prevent us from gathering.”
Last Thursday, a first contingent of 1,000 police was sent in to disperse protesters with tear gas. 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 one man. “There are police at every road junction now, about 1,000 of them altogether. They have got a lot of bases covered.”
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.
On Friday, a government spokesman denied accounts of a new stand-off. Liu Jingmao, spokesman for the Shanwei city government, in an interview with the Reuters news agency, put the number of protesters at only “a few dozen” from a “tiny minority” of the villagers.
The Associated Press quoted Liu on Dec. 26 as saying media curbs had been tightened in Dongzhou because the local government had declared the area part of a security zone. "We've got the situation under control and there's no danger, but it's always possible to have little things happen," the AP quoted him as saying.
Original reporting by Ding Xiao for RFA's Mandarin service. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Produced and written in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.