Guangzhou land rally erupts amid key meeting
About 1,000 villagers angered by land seizures and alleged corruption rallied in front of Guangzhou's city government headquarters yesterday, as the provincial people's congress met elsewhere in the city for the closing ceremony of its annual session.
The protesters from Wanggang village demanded adequate compensation for land seized by their local government and the removal of the village's party secretary.
In a new challenge for Guangdong's liberal-minded party chief Wang Yang , they threatened to turn their village, in Guangzhou's Baiyun district, into 'a second Wukan' if their dispute was not solved properly. Li Hongding , a 32-year-old villager, said it was their third rally outside the headquarters; their previous appeals were ignored. He said they were worried that all the land in their now-urban village would soon be gone if an investigation into the local government's actions was delayed further.
'With the collective power of our villagers, we want to get our voices heard by the government during the provincial people's congress,' Li said. 'Communist rule in Wanggang village has clearly been replaced by corrupted power affiliated with triad gangs. If our problems are not solved, Wanggang will become Guangdong's second Wukan. The land is left by our ancestors, we will fight until the end to get it back.'
Xie Xiaodan , a newly appointed deputy mayor of Guangzhou who oversees areas including public security and petitioning, was sent to meet villagers after 5pm. Five villagers were chosen to meet Xie inside the Guangzhou petitions office next to the city headquarters.
A lengthy article by Wang, whose peaceful settlement of the Wukan uprising earned him widespread praise, appeared yesterday in the Communist Party journal Qiushi (Seeking Truth). In it, he stressed the need to put people's interests first.
Wang has come under pressure since the Wukan settlement from hardliners who warned that his conciliatory approach could lead to more protests. Deputy Guangdong party chief Zhu Mingguo brokered a peace deal last month in Wukan, near Shanwei in eastern Guangdong, that ended months of protests over government land grabs.
Wang wrote that increasing public awareness of democratic rights meant that the government 'should be more scientific and targeted when seeking good for the public. The government should cater to the public when drafting public policies.'
Yesterday's protesters carried colourful flags and large white banners near People's Park, denouncing their village government as corrupt. Villagers have accused village party secretary Li Zhihang of leasing collective land and pocketing more than 400 million yuan (HK$491 million), embezzling up to 850,000 yuan from village co-operatives, and intervening in local elections.
Li Zhihang was seen outside the headquarters, trying to convince villagers to return to Wanggang. He refused to comment on their accusations. Guangzhou police tried to seal off the protest and stop journalists talking to him.
Villagers said Xie met their representatives for about 40 minutes and was urged to immediately suspend Li Zhihang and investigate him for graft. Villagers who returned from the meeting said Xie rejected that demand but had promised an immediate investigation, with a reply by February 19.
A few hundred dissatisfied villagers were still demonstrating outside the headquarters late last night. They said they did not have written confirmation from the petition office promising them a reply by February 19 and would stay outside the building until the office reopened this morning to get a reply in writing.
'We fear reprisals when we return to Wanggang,' one 53-year-old villager said. 'Li Zhihang is well connected to triad gangs. We have tasted their punches and bullying before.'