Police lock down Chinese village to ward off protests

AP News
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Posted: Jun 18, 2016 5:26 AM
Police lock down Chinese village to ward off protests

BEIJING (AP) — Police have locked down a village in southern China to ward off fresh anti-corruption protests nearly five years after an uprising there made it an internationally known symbol of grass-roots defiance against the ruling Communist Party.

A resident from Wukan village in Guangdong province said that police swept in late Friday night to surround sensitive government buildings and take away the village's democratically elected leader, Lin Zuluan, who had planned protests Saturday against illegal land grabs.

Local police announced on social media early Saturday that Lin had been detained on bribery charges and urged villagers to maintain social stability and "not allow a small number of lawbreakers to incite drastic behavior."

The village resident said by phone Saturday that paramilitary police were patrolling Wukan's streets and guarding buildings including the police department, but that shops were open and daily life was carrying on as usual. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisal.

Another villager said police had established checkpoints and were requiring identification cards for everyone entering or leaving Wukan. Zhang Jianxing, a young Wukan resident who was one of the most well-known faces of the 2011 uprising, has not been reachable in several days, said this villager, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

Lin's detention and the heavy police presence appeared to have staved off planned protests against land confiscation and collusion between property developers and higher-ups — a common complaint in rural China.

In 2011, Wukan residents with similar grievances expelled government officials and police and barricaded the village, prompting a weekslong standoff that was peacefully resolved when Guangdong's Communist Party secretary, Wang Yang, agreed to let the village hold a series of elections to directly elect new leaders.

Lin, a protest leader, was named the village's new party secretary after more than 6,000 villagers cast secret ballots in an election that was hailed abroad as a potential model for grass-roots political reform in China.

Before his detention, Lin had prepared a speech for Saturday that said the villagers of Wukan, frustrated with ongoing high-level corruption, are "prepared to sacrifice more than they did in 2011" in a new round of protests, according to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post newspaper.

On Saturday, Lin's Weibo microblogging account posted what appeared to be a 30-second video, shot in darkness, of his overnight arrest, with the caption "help me, help W K."

Zhang Ming, a political science professor at Renmin University in Beijing, said that Lin's bribery charge was "strange" because he did not have the authority as a village chief to sign off on projects that would have presented opportunities to collect kickbacks.

The peaceful resolution of the 2011 standoff amounted to a career boost for Wang, the Guangdong provincial boss who was elevated to the Politburo in 2013 and made vice premier. Another standoff would pose a test for Hu Chunhua, the current Guangdong party secretary and one of the Communist Party's brightest up-and-coming stars.

But Zhang did not foresee a repeat of the insurrection five years ago, which quickly escalated beyond the party's control.

"China today is a much higher-pressure political environment," he said, adding, "But anything could happen."