China rebel village sets conditions for calling off march

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 20, 2011 2:53 AM

By Sui-Lee Wee

WUKAN, China (Reuters) - An organizer in a Chinese village that has rebelled against Communist Party authorities for more than a week said on Tuesday representatives would hold talks with the government and demand a set of concessions in return for calling off a march.

Residents of Wukan village in south China's Guangdong province have threatened to march on a local government office in protest over farmland seized for development, and over the suspicious death in custody of a protest organizer, Xue Jinbo.

Although the rebellion is limited to one village, it has attracted widespread attention and proven a humbling rebuff to the ruling Communist Party, which values stability above all else.

Yang Semao, a village representative, told Reuters that Wukan would send three representatives to talk to government officials in Lufeng, the nearby urban centre, and set conditions for calling off a protest march to Lufeng planned for Wednesday.

The government must remove police barricades around the village, allow more reporters to see Xue's body, and set up an investigation panel into disputes in Wukan, said Yang.

"If they agree to it, then we'll cancel the petition march tomorrow," Yang said.

But Yang could have trouble persuading irate villagers to call off the march, even if those conditions are met. As he explained the demands, another villager chimed in: "We'll still go ahead with the march. They will never agree to it today."

For more than a week, residents of Wukan have driven off officials and police, and held protests in outrage at the death in custody of Xue, whose family rejects the government's position that he died of natural causes.

They and fellow villagers believe he was subjected to abuse that left injuries including welts on his body.

Guangdong's official newspaper, the Southern Daily, said the government of the nearby city of Shanwei had offered to negotiate with the developer to return 404 acres of land and to compensate villagers.

Zheng Yanxiong, the Communist Party boss of Shanwei, which oversees Wukan and Lufeng, said the government would "guarantee the villagers' interests," the newspaper reported.


But barricaded Wukan residents, who were shown a DVD of Zheng speaking with officials about the concessions, said they did not believe him.

"He's a fool. He's a corrupt official," said a villager, 35, who gave his family name as Wu. "If he wanted to face reality, he would have done something sooner and solved our problem quickly not wait until today. I don't believe him."

Another villager added: "It's all lies, he's saying one thing but will do another."

Protests in China have become relatively common over corruption, pollution, wages, and illegal land grabs that local officials attempt to justify in the name of development.

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Chinese experts put the number of "mass incidents," as such protests are known, taking place each year across China at about 90,000, in recent years.

A separate protest took place on Wednesday in Haimen, a town not far from Wukan further east up the coast, as residents demonstrated in front of government offices over plans to build a power plant.

Pictures on popular microblogging site Weibo, which could not be independently verified by Reuters, showed hundreds of people gathered in front of the offices as riot police kept watch.

"They want to build a power plant here in the town, and the people don't want that," one resident said by telephone.

A government official, who declined to provide his name, said the protest had dispersed.

"The authorities are talking about how to resolve this matter, but I'm unable to tell you how that will happen," the official said.

(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee and Sisi Tang, writing by Chris Buckley and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Brian Rhoads and Robert Birsel)