Villagers riot in southern China over land dispute

 Published: 9/23/2011 1:20:05 AM GMT
AP Original Cached

BEIJING – Protests by hundreds of villagers over a land dispute in southern China turned violent this week, with residents smashing buildings, overturning vehicles and clashing with police, a villager and the local city government said Friday.

The unrest began Wednesday when about 50 residents of Wukan village in Guangdong province held a peaceful protest in which they shouted slogans and held up banners, according to a statement issued by the government of Lufeng city, which oversees the village.

Then the crowd swelled to more than 200 people, and the residents began smashing buildings and equipment in an industrial park in the village and blocked roads, the statement said.

The villagers had gathered to protest a rumor that their farmland was going to be sold by local village officials without their consent, said a woman surnamed Chen who works at a building materials company in Wukan.

In China, where economic development is surging and demand for land is high, protests — some violent — fueled by illegal land seizures have grown common among farmers. Although the central government has drawn up laws to protect farmers and their land, implementation at the local level often proves challenging.

Police arrested three villagers during Wednesday's violence, said Chen, who would give only her surname when reached by phone. On Thursday, more than 100 villagers showed up outside a police station to seek the release of the villagers, and a clash broke out, she said.

"They surrounded the police station and would not let the police out. Then there was a fight. Some of them were beaten and wounded. They were all villagers, no police were injured," Chen said.

Chen said the villagers smashed the windows of the police station and overturned vehicles. She said police released the three villagers after that.

The Lufeng government statement said more than 10 police officers were injured and six police vehicles were damaged in Thursday's violence.

Photos of the unrest circulating on the popular microblogging site Sina Weibo showed villagers marching with a large banner saying "Return my ancestral farmland," a young man smashing an overturned police van with a stick, as well as riot police with shields and helmets huddling together.


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