Villagers in southern China were locked in a standoff with authorities yesterday and were demanding democratic polls after a violent clash with thugs linked to a local official over a land transfer.
Just over a week ago, residents of Shangpu, Guangdong Province, fought with scores of attackers who they claimed were sent by the village communist party chief and a business tycoon after they protested against a land deal.
Now police are blockading the settlement to outsiders while residents refuse to let officials inside, days before the annual meeting of the country’s legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC).
The situation recalls a similar episode in Wukan, also in Guangdong and about 100km from Shangpu, which made headlines worldwide 15 months ago.
At the main entrance of the village of 3,000 people, 40 police and officials stood guard, barring outside vehicles from entering.
Not far away, a cloth banner read: “Strongly request legal, democratic elections.”
Shangpu’s two-story houses, typical of the region, and low-slung family-run workshops are surrounded by fields awaiting spring planting. However, the main street is lined with the wrecks of cars damaged in the clash, with glass and metal littering the ground.
Residents said they should have the right to vote both for the leader who represents them and on whether to approve a controversial proposal to transform rice fields into an industrial zone.
“This should be decided by a vote by villagers,” one of the protest leaders said. “The village chief should represent our interests, but he doesn’t.”
Locals fear that once the NPC — which starts tomorrow — ends, authorities will move in with force.
“For the purpose of maintaining stability, they [authorities] don’t want to use forceful measures before the meetings,” another villager said. “We are afraid of them coming back.”
The unidentified attackers, a number wearing orange hard hats and red armbands, drove into the village and turned on residents with shovels and other weapons.
Villagers drove the interlopers off by hitting them with bamboo poles and throwing bricks from a nearby construction site, according to first-hand accounts and video of the incident provided to reporters.
They said they then vented their fury on the attackers’ cars, overturning and smashing as many as 29 vehicles.
Residents claimed some of the group had knives and a gun. A video showed a man firing a handgun into the air and villagers said he was a plainclothes police officer trying to intercede.
At least eight villagers were injured.