Police have sealed off a southern Chinese village and cut food supplies in an attempt to crush an uprising by villagers angered by government land seizures and the death of a man in police custody, residents said Wednesday.
The protests in Guangdong province are part of a growing trend of confrontation between Chinese and their government over the seizure of land for business development projects.
Police started blocking roads leading to Wukan, a fishing village of 20,000 people, late last week and prevented food from being transported in, said Qiu Yankun, a man who owns a shop selling farming tools.
Some food was allowed into the village, located in Shanwei city, starting Monday but police continued to prevent villagers from fishing and supplies are running low, said Qiu, who was reached by phone.
"Nobody dares to leave the village now. If you want to leave, you have to sign your name. We don't know what that means. Most of us are just too scared to go out," Qiu said. Even children who would normally have gone to school in a nearby town were staying at home because the school buses were not allowed to enter the village, he said.
Calls to local government and police offices rang unanswered Wednesday.
Residents have essentially taken over the village after officials either fled from earlier protests, absconded with the money from land sales, or been fired, according to various accounts. "Nobody is taking care of anything," Qiu said.
Videos posted online show hundreds of villagers gathered for a protest on Tuesday, shouting slogans and pumping their fists in the air.
With a booming economy, demand for land to build factories and housing complexes has soared. Land disputes have grown apace, becoming one of the leading causes of the tens of thousands of large-scale protests that hit China every year. Around Wukan village and in much of the rest of Guangdong province, conflicts have been intense because the area is among China's most economically developed, pushing up land prices.
Tensions rose in September when protests by hundreds of villagers over a land dispute turned violent, with residents smashing buildings, overturning vehicles and clashing with police. Residents complained that their farmland was sold by local officials to developers to build factories without their consent.
On Sunday, Xue Jinbo, a man accused of participating in the September land protest, died in police custody, further angering residents, who suspected he was beaten. Chinese media reported that local police and provincial authorities said Xue died of cardiac failure.
Fearful that police were planning on taking away more people, villagers blocked them from entering about five days ago, said Qiu. According to the Shanwei government's website, the villagers used tree trunks to block the roads, but police have cleared the obstructions.
Qiu said village officials left in late September during the protests while the last police officers in the village also fled a few days ago.
"There's not even a single cadre at the village hall now, not even a shadow. They had all left without a trace from Sept. 21. The building is all empty," Qiu said.
"The fishermen are not allowed to leave the port, and the masons and bricklayers can't do their jobs because the raw materials can't be shipped in," Qiu said.
Qiu's account was similar to that provided by two other Wukan residents as well as a man in the neighboring village, who were reached by phone.
On Wednesday, a large crowd gathered at the village hall to protest, while a funeral was being held for Xue, said Huang Hancan, another Wukan villager and a fisherman.
"This is getting so serious now. This is collusion between officials and business people," Huang said. "So much land has been ruined ... more than half of all we have."
A villager surnamed Zhong in Guwei village who has been using dirt roads to bring food to his relatives in Wukan because the main roads are sealed said there was also a large protest involving hundreds of people on Tuesday in the Wukan village hall.
In an apparent bid to show that three remaining suspects in detention were being treated well, the Lufeng city government released a statement Wednesday saying that each detainee was allowed a visit with family members.
Chinese media reported there were also gatherings in November over the land issue, and two Wukan officials have been removed from their posts and a third resigned.
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