Guangzhou slum residents battle police

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 August, 2010, 12:00am

Hundreds of residents and police in Guangzhou clashed early yesterday after the authorities started demolishing parts of a slum area slated to come under the wrecking ball ahead of the Asian Games.

City authorities have embarked on an ambitious drive to clear all slum areas as part of an image makeover for the games in November.

Security guards descended on the Xian village area in Tianhe district at around 10pm on Thursday, according to witnesses who live near the area. In the early hours of yesterday, hundreds of riot police poured into the area to confront residents.

Both sides threw rocks at each other. After a two-hour stand-off, riot police rushed towards the residents and started beating them, according to witnesses.

'We'll defend ourselves till we die,' some of the residents were heard to shout.

The conflict continued till dawn. Police used tear gas to disperse the crowd and ordered residents to leave, according to a resident who lives opposite the Xian village.

'They were fighting with each other. Police were beating anybody who happened to be near,' the resident, who refused to give his name, said by phone. 'I saw a young man badly beaten. He was seriously wounded.

'How can police carry out their duties so violently?'

He said Xian villagers had demonstrated against the demolition plan many times over the past year but their voices went unheeded. They accused local officials of colluding with developers by selling their land below the market price. They also refused to move because they were trying to fight for more compensation.

A woman who lives nearby said a number of residents had attacked the officers and some threw bricks at police vehicles. There were more than a dozen police vehicles and riot police armed themselves with shields and sticks, she said.

'The residents were beating policemen too,' she said.

The Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said about 20 residents were wounded.

The Tianhe district government said yesterday that government officials in charge of the demolition encountered violence when carrying out their duty on Thursday, and two officers were injured. Local police were called to maintain order and some collectively owned properties were demolished according to law.

'The demolition would speed up the construction of a [high-speed link] and further improve the transportation environment,' the e-mailed statement said.

A staff member at Xian village police station said no residential buildings had been demolished and only public areas such as a market had been demolished. He refused to respond to further questions.

'The residents are all still here,' he said.

The Xian area, like many other so-called 'urban villages', started decades ago as an agricultural community on the outskirts of the city. As Guangzhou began to prosper in the 1980s and '90s, they were dwarfed by surrounding skyscrapers.

These slums make up about 22 per cent of the city. They are poorly built, have bad infrastructure and attract migrants and low-paid workers because of the cheap rents. They are considered hotbeds of crime.

The Guangzhou government wants to convert them into properties that make more efficient use of space. Nine of the 138 slums, including Xian, are under a deadline to be demolished by the time the Asian Games begin on November 12.