A man accused of participating in a land protest involving hundreds of villagers has died in police custody, raising the prospect of further unrest in a region of southern China.
Xue Jinbo suddenly felt ill Sunday on his third day of detention and was rushed to hospital, where he was declared dead, according to a statement posted on the website of Shanwei city government in Guangdong province. The hospital determined Xue's cause of death was cardiac failure, the statement said.
Xue was suspected to have been involved in a riot on Sept. 21 in Wukan village where residents smashed a police station and other government buildings.
At the time, a worker in Wukan told The Associated Press that the villagers had gathered to protest a rumor that their farmland was going to be sold by local village officials without their consent.
According to a news article dated Saturday and posted on the Shanwei government's website, there were further gatherings in November over the issue and two Wukan officials have been removed from their posts and a third resigned.
In an apparent bid to offset further trouble, city government officials said they had invited forensic experts to conduct independent investigations into Xue's death and sent condolences and offered aid to his family. The Shanwei government also was helping to work out details of the funeral.
In an indication of how sensitive the authorities are to unrest, users of the popular Twitter-like Sina Weibo were unable to search for the term "Wukan" on Monday afternoon.
In China, where economic development is surging and demand for land is high, protests _ some violent _ fueled by illegal land seizures have grown common among farmers. Although the central government has drawn up laws to protect farmers and their land, they are not always consistently implemented at the local level.