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Villagers revolt against corrupted Chinese officials for illegal land seizures

Posted Dec 15 2011 6:57pm

wukan Villagers revolt against corrupted Chinese officials for illegal land seizures

More than 1,000 police in antiriot gear entered Wukan village in Lufeng county, Guangdong province, before dawn on Dec. 11, 2011. Police fired more than 50 rounds of tear gas and other ammunitions. Wukan villagers have staged several large-scale, well-organized, protests during the last few months against illegal land grabs and corruption by officials.

A fishing village of about 20,000 people in southern China is in open revolt against the local government who had led protests over an alleged land grab, according to residents. wukan1 Villagers revolt against corrupted Chinese officials for illegal land seizures

Villagers say the man was murdered, but police say he died of a heart attack.

in the southern province of GuangdongChina’s export powerhouseand according to residents.

The police have responded by the residents said.

Outside Wukan, life appeared normal with shops and markets open. . They prevented a Wall Street Journal reporter from entering.

A press officer for the local government denied that any land grab had occurred, although he did acknowledge that villagers were angry over a land issue. He said

“It will absolutely have a smooth resolution,” the official said.

The siege in the prosperous province is one of the most serious recent examples of mass unrest in China, much of it due to local officials misappropriating farmland and selling it to property developers at an enormous profit that farmers never see.

Illegal land seizuresoften for golf courses, luxury villas and hotels as it struggles to maintain legitimacy in a society that is becoming increasingly demanding and well-informed, thanks in large measure to the Internet, even as income disparities widen.

Such land disputes account for 65% of “mass incidents”the government’s euphemism for large protestsin rural areas, according to Yu Jianrong, a professor and expert on rural issues at the state-run Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Mr. Yu estimates that local officials have seized about 16.6 million acres of rural land (more than the entire state of West Virginia) since 1990, between the compensation they receive and the land’s real market value.

China’s Land Ministry has also warned that misappropriation of farmland has brought the country dangerously close to the so-called red line of 296 million acres of arable land that the government believes it needs to feed China’s 1.34 billion people.

targeting golf courses, hotels and villas in particular, and has announced several high-profile cases in which officials have been punished.

But the central government’s attempts to curb such abuses, and to draft new legislation that would protect against land grabs and give farmers a market rate for their land, have met fierce resistance from local authorities who rely on land sales to maintain growth, service debt and top up their budgets.

In 2010 alone, China’s local governments raised 2.9 trillion yuan from land sales. And the National Audit Office estimates that 23% of local government debt, which it put at 10.7 trillion yuan in June, depends on land sales for repayment.

In Wukan, Chinese authorities now face a tough choice between and risking serious violenceor

, the Communist Party chief of Guangdong, who is vying with other candidates for promotion to the Politburo Standing Committeethe party’s top decision-making bodyin a once-a-decade leadership change next year.

Mr. Wang launched a “Happy Guangdong” campaign this year, and has long been seen as a bellwether of the country’s future.

Anger over land seizures ranks as a top threat to China’s leaders

including riots by hundreds of migrant workers in the cities of Zengcheng and Chaozhou. The rioters attacked government offices and overturned police cars over several days in June.

In China, all urban land is owned by the state, although usage rights can be traded. and u

Under Chinese law, local governments can acquire farmland for construction projects that are “in the public interest” in exchange for compensation based on a multiple of the land’s agricultural yield, rather than its market value.

and t according to experts in the field.

In such cases, at all, while with most of the profits going to the officials and developers.

“This kind of dispute is very widespread,” said Eva Pils, an associate professor of law specializing in land disputes in China at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“Because people are better connected and better informed, you can sense that there is more radical opposition to what’s happening to them,” she said. “It’s also easier for this kind of protest to spreadand far harder to isolate because information can still travel.”

The unrest in Wukan began in September, when villagers attacked local government offices to protest against officials who they said had sold the rights for their land to property developers without providing proper compensation.

Some villagers have said that local officials sold the land to a property developer for as much as and.

Local authorities responded at first by sending in riot police, but later tried to negotiate with villagers, asking them to appoint 13 representatives to deal with the government. Those negotiations failed to achieve a compromise, however, and last week men in plainclothes detained some of the 13 representatives, villagers say.

wukan2 Villagers revolt against corrupted Chinese officials for illegal land seizures

The victim allegedly beaten to death in police custody

On Tuesday, the local government announced that one of the detained representatives, 42-year-old Xue Jinbo, had died of a cardiac arrest in custody Sunday.

Mr. Xue’s relatives believe he was beaten to death, according to villagers. “We lament his death, as he died for us,” one villager, who asked to be identified only by his surname, Lin, said in a telephone interview.

OB QZ652 wukan3 G 20111214072553 Villagers revolt against corrupted Chinese officials for illegal land seizures

Malcolm Moore/TelegrapThousands rallied Tuesday in Wukan, a fishing village of about 20,000 in southern China.

He said that Mr. Xue’s mother, wife and elder brother had been to see his corpse and had found

China’s state-run Xinhua news agency published a report Wednesday quoting

Xinhua said Mr. Xue was suspected of having led protests in Wukan in September “regarding issues related to land use, financing and the election of local officials.” It said he and other villagers had broken into local government offices and police stations and destroyed six police cars.

and , it said, quoting a local police official.

He pleaded guilty to the accusations during two interrogations on Friday and Saturday, Xinhua quoted the police official as saying.

A fellow inmate reported that Mr. Xue was ill Sunday, Xinhua quoted the police as saying, and he was immediately taken to a nearby hospital, where he died after 30 minutes of emergency treatment.

The official added that Mr. Xue had a history of asthma and heart disease, according to Xinhua.

A report issued by the forensic medicine center at Zhongshan University in the nearby city of Guangzhou said Xinhua said.

“We assume handcuffs left the marks on his wrists, and his knees were bruised slightly when he knelt,” it quoted Luo Bin, deputy chief of the center, as saying.

The escalation of the protest was reported this week by the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Kersten Zhang and Olivia Geng in Beijing contributed to this article.

Via WSJ: Land Dispute in China Town Sparks Revolt

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