Thu, Dec 15, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Police seal off Chinese town to crush protest

STANDING THEIR GROUND:Demand for land has grown and so have disputes, now one of the leading causes of thousands of large-scale protests that hit China every year

AP, BEIJING

Police have sealed off a southern Chinese village, blocked people from fishing and cut food supplies to crush land protests involving hundreds of villagers, residents said yesterday.

The sometimes-violent protests — which flared up again this week after a villager died in police custody — are part of a growing trend of confrontation between Chinese and their government over the seizure of land for business development projects.

Police started blocking roads leading to Wukan, a fishing village of 20,000 people in Guangdong Province, late last week and prevented food from being transported in, said Qiu Yankun, a man who owns a shop selling farming tools.

Some food was allowed into the village, located in Shanwei City, from Monday, but police continued to prevent villagers from fishing and supplies are running low, said Qiu, who was reached by telephone.

“Nobody dares to leave the village now. If you want to leave, you have to sign your name. We don’t know what that means. Most of us are just too scared to go out,” Qiu said.

Even children who would normally have gone to school in a nearby town were staying at home because school buses were not allowed to enter the village, he said.

Calls to local government and police offices rang unanswered yesterday.

With a booming economy, demand for land to build factories and housing complexes has soared. Land disputes have grown apace, becoming one of the leading causes of the tens of thousands of large-scale protests that hit China every year.

Around Wukan and in most of Guangdong Province conflicts have been intense because the area is among China’s most economically developed, pushing up land prices.

Tensions rose in September when protests by hundreds of villagers over a land dispute turned violent, with residents smashing buildings, overturning vehicles and clashing with police.

Residents complained that their farmland was sold by local officials to developers to build factories without their consent.

On Sunday, Xue Jinbo (薛錦波), a man accused of participating in the September land protest, died in police custody, further angering residents, who suspected he was beaten. Chinese media reported that local police and provincial authorities said Xue died of cardiac failure.

Fearful that police were planning on taking away more people, villagers blocked them from entering about five days ago, Qiu said.

According to the Shanwei City Government’s Web site, the villagers used tree trunks to block the roads, but police have cleared the obstructions.

Qiu said village officials left in late September during the protests, while the last police officers in the village also fled a few days ago.

“There’s not even a single cadre at the village hall now, not even a shadow. They had all left without a trace from Sept. 21. The building is all empty,” Qiu said. “The fishermen are not allowed to leave the port and the masons and bricklayers can’t do their jobs because the raw materials can’t be shipped in.”

Qiu’s account was similar to that provided by another Wukan resident, as well as a man in a neighboring village, who were reached by telephone.

A villager surnamed Zhong in Guwei, who has been using dirt roads to bring food to his relatives in Wukan because the main roads are sealed, said there was a large protest involving hundreds of people on Tuesday in Wukan village hall.

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