Chinese villagers, officials held over land deal clash


Mon, Mar 11, 2013 - Page 5

Chinese authorities have arrested a village chief and eight other people over clashes surrounding a land deal that provoked residents’ fury, as officials sought to end a standoff over the dispute yesterday.

Early yesterday, officials sent a police to clear road blocks in Shangpu, in the southern province of Guangdong, sparking fresh violence in which residents said 30 to 40 villagers had been hurt.

However, local authorities also said the land transfer to a local businessman which triggered the confrontation had been canceled.

Social unrest is anathema to China’s leaders, who are meeting at the annual parliament session in Beijing, and the situation recalls events at another village in Guangdong, Wukan, which made worldwide headlines in late 2011.

On Feb. 22, Shangpu residents fought with scores of attackers sent by Li Baoyu, the village head and Chinese Communist Party boss, after they protested against the land transaction, and blockades went up around the village for more than two weeks.

However, in a partial victory for the villagers, authorities said they had arrested nine people, including Li, over the attack and were pursuing another 21, among them the businessman behind the land deal.

A local court had nullified the land transfer, while two other officials had been removed over the incident, a spokesman for Jiexi County, which administers Shangpu, said yesterday.

However, villagers said they remained skeptical of the government’s reassurances.

Police surrounded the village yesterday morning, temporarily cutting off the power supply and communication, as they sought to remove wrecked vehicles and roadblocks set up by residents, villagers told reporters.

“It’s an extremely serious situation. They injured many people,” a villager said.

“The government uses illegal methods to cheat people. How can we believe them?” he added, referring to the government’s claim that it had scrapped the land deal.

Jiexi County spokesman Lin Weizhe said authorities were seeking to clear the village road so that traffic could resume, but declined further comment.

In Wukan, a protest by residents in late 2011 against a land grab by local officials accused of corruption escalated after one of their leaders died in police custody.

Villagers barricaded roads and faced off against security forces for 10 days until authorities promised them rare concessions.

Residents were later allowed to hold open village elections — the first in Wukan.

Shangpu residents previously told reporters that they wanted their land returned, those involved in the attack arrested and democratic polls to elect the village head.