Dozens held as 1,000 police end land-use protest

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 January, 2010, 12:00am

Dozens of villagers in Foshan remain behind bars after a dispute over land use turned into a violent clash with armed police.

According to residents of Wanshi village, under Shishan township in the Pearl River Delta's manufacturing heartland, more than 300 people formed a human chain in the early hours to protest against the development of a plot of land they believed was communally owned.

Witnesses said about 1,000 armed police were sent in, and within an hour more than 70 people were detained. Many protesters suffered injuries, with some requiring hospital treatment.

Disputes over land use have increased in the past 12 months as money from last year's four trillion yuan (HK$4.54 trillion) economic stimulus package has been poured into a mass of infrastructure and real estate projects.

A villager surnamed Wan, who would not give her full name as she feared retribution for her detained husband and 70-year-old father-in-law, said one elderly villager was in intensive care after police moved to break up the protest.

Villagers gathered at 4am to prevent construction workers from breaking ground on the project in the 20 hectare field. Soon after 8am, more than 300 residents were surrounded by over 1,000 police, some of whom were armed with batons and riot shields.

Police used tear gas, fire hoses and pepper spray to break up the chain, and many were injured in the process. The field was cleared in an hour.

'The police didn't treat us like human beings. They beat us as if we were animals,' Wan said. 'At least two gunshots were fired across the field to scare us. They arrested mostly young men but they also beat up women, children and old people.

'They would not even show mercy to a four-year-old child. Many of us suffered head injuries and bruises.'

Wan, 30, said young men who were not present at the protest were rounded up by police later in the day.

A woman surnamed Deng said she required medical attention after being hit with a baton. Her face and body was bruised.

Wanshi villagers claim the field belonged to them, but was sold by the town government to state-owned Poly Real Estate Group for 560 million yuan in August. Villagers received no compensation, and Wan said the worst part was that they only found out about it by reading newspapers.

Shishan's town government expressed concern over yesterday's protest, and said 48 villagers were taken away. A statement said more than 100 villagers fought with police using sticks, knives, folding chairs and gas bottles. The town government accused the villagers of being aggressive, and said the police were simply responding to allow the landowner to exercise its lawful rights.

The government acknowledged that villagers had petitioned for land ownership, but insisted it belonged to the country. 'Prior to this, we have done extensive work to explain the government's policies in-depth, urging them to respect the law and history,' the statement said.