Sun, Jan 22, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Officials face sack for greedy land grabs

FARMING CRISIS The party chief in Guangdong Province promised he will ensure that peasants are not pushed off their fields unfairly to make way for construction projects

AFP , BEIJING

Chinese officials risk losing their jobs if they mishandle land disputes, state media said yesterday, after Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) warned of the issue's potential to destabilize society as a whole.

Zhang Dejiang, the Communist Party secretary of Guangdong Province, said he would clamp down on three types of wrongdoing often committed when land is requisitioned for construction projects, the Yangcheng Evening News reported.

"Construction projects ... that cross the 'three red lines' triggering mass incidents, will result in officials losing their jobs," Zhang was quoted as telling a meeting in a provincial disciplinary body.

The "three red lines" refer to construction projects that go ahead without the proper paperwork, without the agreement of farmers occupying the land, or without adequate compensation for the farmers.

Guangdong, China's fourth-most populous province with 78 million people, has witnessed a series of clashes over illegal land grabs, highlighting growing tension in the countryside.

The People's Daily on Friday published remarks by Wen offering an unusually frank assessment of the dire conditions in rural China, still home to an estimated 800 million people.

In particular, the text of a speech delivered by the premier late last month pointed out that rural land management was an issue loaded with social dynamite.

"Some local authorities occupy farmland without giving the farmers proper compensation, setting off mass incidents," he said.

"This is a prominent issue that hurts stability not just in the countryside, but in society as a whole," Wen said.

He added ominously that "on the issue of land, we cannot allow ourselves to make a historic mistake."

In the latest incident, villagers said a teenage girl was killed last weekend in Panlong village near Zhongshan city, Guangdong, when police cracked down on a crowd of locals who were protesting land confiscation.

One week later, the situation in the Panlong area had become markedly less tense, as officials presented each farmer with 200 yuan (US$24.7) in cash to spend during the Lunar New Year.

"You lose 1,000 yuan and pick up a single yuan, but does that make you better off?" a resident said yesterday. "I have no confidence that the government will really solve our problems."

The Panlong riot followed a protest last month in Guangdong's Dongzhou village, in which paramilitary forces opened fire on demonstrators.

Three people were killed according to official accounts, and as many as 30 according to villagers.

Farmers' protests are becoming increasingly frequent in China, with most of the unrest triggered by heavy-handed government land requisition policies or the abuse of power by officials.

Official data published this week showed the number of public disturbances rose to 87,000 last year from 74,000 in 2004, compared with just 10,000 such incidents in 1994.

The number of people involved has increased five-fold, from 730,000 in 1994 to 3.76 million people in 2004.

A yawning gap between rich and poor that has appeared following 25 years of robust economic growth has also led to an increase of widespread dissatisfaction among China's low-income earners, social scientists have said.

Last year, the National Bureau of Statistics said the top 10 percent of the nation's richest people enjoyed 45 percent of the country's wealth, while the poorest 10 percent had only 1.4 percent of the wealth.

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