Hundreds protest in south China over land grab

 Published: 9/23/2011 2:25:04 AM GMT
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LUFENG, China (Reuters) – Hundreds of villagers in southern China protested on Friday over a government seizure of land, the latest outbreak of trouble in the economic powerhouse of Guangdong province that illustrates growing public anger at the practice of land grabs.

The farmers gathered outside the government offices in Lufeng, a city of 1.7 million, banging on gongs and shouting: "Give us our land back." They held banners that said "return our farmland" and "let us continue farming."

Most stood by observing and there was no immediate violence or police presence, though the scene was tense. Villagers blocked roads with their motorbikes and broken bricks were piled by the roadsides.

The protests over land grabs, generally carried out by either private or state-linked companies but with the acquiescence of local governments, have persisted despite assurances from the government that it will address the problem.

"We are very angry because we have no land for our livelihood anymore," said a 36-year-old farmer named Chen Hanzou, standing next to the plot of seized land in Longguang village. He added that the government took away about 40 hectares of land.

The disputes in a country where the government legally owns all land have led to protests, fights with police, imprisonment and suicides, and created a recurring headache for the ruling Communist Party which is obsessed with stability.

"For future generations, we can't be scared," said a villager in a wheelchair, Li Shicao. "We must be united. If we're scared, they'll sell all the rest of our land."

It was the third day of tensions in Lufeng. Hundreds of villagers attacked government buildings, according to a statement by the municipal government of Shanwei region, which includes Lufeng. More than a dozen police officers were injured in the clashes and six police vehicles were damaged, it said in the statement on its website late on Thursday night.

Hong Kong's South China Morning Post put the crowd at thousands, though police estimates said hundreds.

Witnesses in Lufeng city said the protests, in which around a dozen residents were hurt, were triggered by the seizure of the land and its sale to property developer Country Garden for 1 billion yuan ($156.6 million), the Post said. The developer could not immediately comment.


The Shanwei government accused villagers of having "ulterior motives" and of "inciting" other villagers to charge into the police station on Thursday afternoon by spreading rumors about police officers beating a child to death. It denied any civilian deaths.

But a villager from Longguang village surnamed Li told Reuters that police beat two students on Thursday, killing one of them on the spot.

"The officials here are corrupt and are colluding with the developers," he said.

Four people had been detained for their role in organizing the protests on Wednesday, Shanwei's local news service said on its website.

It was the latest flareup of violence in Guangdong. Earlier this year, in the factory town of Zengcheng, thousands of outraged migrant workers rioted over the alleged maltreatment of a female worker, torching government offices, smashing police cars and marching in their thousands through the streets.

Protests and incidents of "mass unrest" have risen recently, fueled by rapid economic transformation, according to Zhou Ruijin, a former deputy editor-in-chief of the People's Daily, writing in current affairs magazine 'China through the Ages'.

Between 1993 and 2006, the national number of recorded "mass incidents" such as riots and protests grew from 8,708 to around 90,000, Zhou wrote in the September edition of the magazine.

From 2007 to 2009, the number of such incidents was consistently above 90,000, he added.

"These conflicts are concentrated in rural land requisitions and urban housing demolition, as well as in resource development and environmental protection," wrote Zhou.


China is facing a leadership transition next year, with Hu Jintao expected to retire from the Communist Party in the fall and the presidency the following March, handing the posts to anointed successor Xi Jinping.

The rising discontent over land grabs, forced demolitions and corruption has increased anxieties among officials, determined to defend one-party rule and make the transition to a younger generation of leaders as smooth as possible.

Chinese authorities are wary of any spread of discontent. By Friday morning, searches for "Lufeng" on China's Twitter-style microblogging service Weibo were blocked, with a message saying the "relevant legal regulations" prevented displaying the results.

The unrest in one of China's most economically important provinces, with the famed Pearl River Delta "world factory" zone that accounts for around a third of China's exports, also poses a major challenge for Guangdong Communist Party chief Wang Yang.

Wang, who is widely expected to be promoted to China's highest leadership ranks in the leadership transition, has called for a "Happy Guangdong" development model that evens out the economic imbalances and emphasizes social harmony.

A message on the Internet bulletin board of the Southern Daily, Guangdong's official newspaper, says the residents of Wukan village in the Lufeng municipality have petitioned repeatedly in 2009 and 2010 about the land disputes that triggered the riot.

"Please tell us, just who will take charge of this case?" wrote a user. "Do we really have nowhere to complain?"

(Additional reporting by Sisi Tang in Hong Kong and Chris Buckley and Sabrina Mao in Beijing, Writing by Sui-Lee Wee, Editing by Brian Rhoads)

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