Tue, Dec 28, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Officials' abuses fuel simmering unrest in China

REFORM Dissatisfaction over corruption is leading to an increasing number of violent confrontations and mass demonstrations


Yu Lanfang says police officers broke her hand after she tried to expose alleged corruption in her poor township in central China's Hubei Province.

Following her election as an official in Tangxia village in 2002, villagers asked Yu to reported three irregularities to her county government.

No accounts were released for 13 years, Yu said. Villagers suspected corruption in the construction of a poor quality school building, for which they had raised 400,000 yuan (US$4,800 dollars). The village had also failed to implement reforms of agricultural fees, which are still levied arbitrarily and without right of inspection in many areas of China, she said.

"After I reported these problems, the township government retaliated against me," Yu said. "They tried to force me to sign their clearance report [for inspection of the accounts.] When I refused to do so, I was arrested by about 30 policemen from the county police station. My left hand was fractured when they arrested me."

Yu, 55, is one of a growing number of ordinary Chinese who defy local officials by trying to overturn alleged injustices and expose corruption. Her broken hand was not treated for 17 days, leaving her with permanent disability.

Behind the headlines of new records in growth of exports and GDP, an increasing number of protests and violent incidents reflect a simmering unrest over abuse of official powers in China. The protests also reflect widespread cynicism towards the ruling Communist Party and the contradictions of its "socialism with Chinese characteristics."

Many other protesters have suffered rough treatment at the hands of police and security guards. Like Yu, most of those with grievances keep their protests largely within the system, appealing to higher levels of government. But as China's rapid growth widens social and economic divisions, a growing number of others take a direct approach, confronting police and officials in mass protests that sometimes turn violent.

Several riots this year were linked to alleged corruption, land grabs, ethnic conflict, and abuse of power. In one incident, an estimated 10,000 people joined protests and rioting in the southwestern city of Wanzhou in October, after a market employee's apparent bullying of a porter sparked anger against the city government, eyewitnesses and local media said.

Up to 60,000 farmers joined violent protests against a dam project in nearby Sichuan Province early last month, resulting in an unknown number of deaths and injuries. The farmers opposed to the Pubugou dam project were confronted by thousands of armed paramilitary police as they protested against their forced relocation and inadequate compensation payments, witnesses said.

Reports of such incidents are always sketchy, as the government seals the area, bans state media from mentioning the clashes and arrests any foreign journalists who travel to the site without permission. Overseas-based Chinese dissidents estimated that some 10 million people joined protests last year.

"China is undergoing the most crucial period of reform, and new social security problems have started to show," the influential Southern Weekend newspaper said recently.

Urban residents often protest against alleged corruption in housing redevelopment. The protesters claim developers cheat them on compensation payments, give minimal notice of relocation and often intimidate residents or cut off utilities.

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