BEIJING (AP) — Residents of a village in southern China where police have been deployed took to the streets Sunday to protest the detention of the village's democratically elected leader and historic seizures of land.
The protests in Wukan come nearly five years after an uprising there made the fishing village in Guangdong province, next to Hong Kong, an internationally known symbol of grass-roots defiance against China's ruling Communist Party.
Residents say police swooped in late Friday to surround government buildings and take away Wukan's 70-year-old leader, Lin Zuluan, who had planned to hold a meeting with residents on Tuesday to discuss illegal land grabs. Prosecutors in the city of Lufeng, which administers Wukan, said he was being investigated on suspicion of taking bribes.
On Sunday, residents contacted by phone said that thousands of people in Wukan spontaneously marched to call for Lin's release and the return of land sold by past leaders.
One resident estimated that up to 2,000 people took part in the demonstration in the village of 20,000. The resident, who wanted to be identified by only his surname, Peng, because of the sensitivity of the issue, said they chanted slogans such as "Release the village chief" and "Return our land."
In 2011, Wukan became the center of international attention after residents engaged in mass protests, accusing leaders at the time of selling farmland without paying compensation.
Seizure of land by authorities and collusion between property developers and officials is a common complaint in rural China. In Wukan, in contrast to other protests that end in arrests, the provincial government agreed to hold an election in which Lin, a protest leader, was voted in as village chief. He was re-elected in 2014.
Following the uprising, authorities said that former Wukan officials had been involved in illegal transfers of land use rights, embezzling property that was collectively owned, accepting bribes and rigging village elections.
Peng said that there had been no protests over the land grabs since Lin became leader, but that most of the land had not been returned to the people.
Peng and another resident, who gave only his surname, Fan, said that the hundreds of security personnel stationed in the village since Friday, including armed police, anti-riot police, local officers and soldiers, did not stop Sunday's protest, and that there were no clashes or arrests.
Fan said that people marched toward the Wukan police station. An officer reached at the station said he was too busy to talk.
Fan said that some residents had suggested they would take to the streets again Monday.
China has allowed villages to hold elections for nearly three decades to select committees to manage finances, land use and other local affairs. Elected leaders, backed by popular support, often rival local Communist Party officials. Feeling threatened, party officials have often tried to manipulate the results.
Associated Press news assistant Henry Hou contributed to this report.