Second village wins swift graft probe
Guangzhou city officials have agreed to investigate the property and financial records in Wanggang village and put a village party committee election on hold.
The moves to appease protesting villagers came after about 1,000 Wanggang residents, angered by land seizures and alleged official corruption, rallied in front of Guangzhou city's government headquarters on Tuesday.
They vowed to turn their urban village, under the Jiahe subdistrict in the city's Baiyun district, into 'Guangdong's second Wukan' - referring to the three months of protests late last year by villagers from Wukan in the province's east with similar complaints.
The Wanggang villagers' demonstration came as the annual session of the Guangdong provincial people's congress came to a close.
The conciliatory gestures by officials were seen as a continuation of Guangdong party secretary Wang Yang's use of the 'Wukan approach' to address public grievances over land issues with a speedy response and peaceful negotiations.
Three hours after villagers began protesting at the city's People's Park, vice-mayor Xie Xiaodan was sent to negotiate with five village representatives. Xie promised a thorough probe would be conducted, with a reply by February 19.
Villagers accuse their party secretary, Li Zhihang, of leasing out the village's collectively owned land and pocketing more than 400 million yuan (HK$492 million). Li also allegedly embezzled as much as 850,000 yuan from village co-operatives, and intervened in elections.
Wanggang residents are calling for Li's immediate suspension and the return of their land.
Late on Tuesday night, hundreds of villagers were still seen protesting outside the city government's headquarters, but they were persuaded to leave on early Wednesday morning, with transport arranged by Baiyun officials.
Li Peichuang, Wanggang's deputy party secretary, told the South China Morning Post that Baiyun officials visited the village yesterday morning and formalised the agreement the villagers made with Xie on Tuesday.
The agreement includes a thorough investigation of all newly built high-rise buildings in the village that had been linked to Li Zhihang's alleged misdeeds, as well as appointing a third-party auditor to check Wanggang's financial records, and postponing the election until the release of the probe's findings.
Separately, Li Peichuang said a Baiyun public security bureau official told him that Wang had ordered the Guangzhou city government to ensure that Wanggang does not turn into another Wukan, ordering 'an appropriate handling' of the tense situation.
Villagers have vowed to launch an even bigger protest after the Lunar New Year should the government renege on its promises, said Li Hongding, one of the five village representatives.