No end in sight to stand-off in Guangdong village over land deal

A week after a violent clash, police prevent outsiders from entering a Guangdong village

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 March, 2013, 9:38am


Villagers in Shangpu, Guangdong province, were yesterday still locked in a stand-off with authorities, and were demanding democratic polls after a violent clash with thugs linked to a local official over a land transfer.

Just over a week ago, residents fought with scores of attackers whom they claimed were sent by the village Communist Party chief and a business tycoon after they protested against a land deal.

Now, on the eve of the annual session of the National People's Congress, police are blockading the settlement to outsiders while villagers refuse to let officials inside.

The situation recalls a similar episode in Wukan, also in Guangdong and about 100 kilometres from Shangpu, which made headlines 15 months ago.

At the main entrance of the village of 3,000 people, 40 police and officials stood guard, barring outside vehicles from entering. Not far away, a cloth banner read: "Strongly request legal, democratic elections."

Shangpu's two-storey houses, typical of the region, and low-slung family-run workshops are surrounded by fields awaiting spring planting. But the main street is lined with the wrecks of cars damaged in the clash, with glass and metal littering the ground.

Residents said they should have the right to vote both for the leader who represents them and on whether to approve a controversial proposal to transform rice fields into an industrial zone.

"This should be decided by a vote by villagers," said one of the protest leaders, adding: "The village chief should represent our interests, but he doesn't."

Locals fear that once the NPC ends, authorities will move in with force.

The mainland's parliament is widely seen as a rubber stamp, whose hand-picked members do the bidding of the ruling party. Beijing has repeatedly ruled out Western-style democracy for the country.

"For the purpose of maintaining stability, they [the authorities] don't want to use forceful measures before the meetings," another villager said. "We are afraid of them coming back."

The unidentified attackers, some of whom wore orange hard hats and red armbands, drove into the village and turned on residents with shovels and other weapons.

Villagers drove the interlopers off by hitting them with bamboo poles and throwing bricks from a nearby construction site, according to first-hand accounts and video of the incident provided to reporters.

They said they then vented their fury on the attackers' cars, overturning and smashing as many as 29 vehicles.

Residents claimed some of the group had knives and a gun. A video showed a man firing a handgun into the air and villagers said he was a plainclothes police officer trying to intercede. At least eight villagers were injured.

In Wukan in late 2011, a protest by residents against a land grab by local officials accused of corruption escalated after one of their leaders died in police custody.

Villagers barricaded roads and faced off against security forces for 10 days, until authorities backed down and promised them rare concessions. Residents were later allowed to hold open village elections - a first in Wukan.

The people of Shangpu heard about Wukan indirectly and had similar demands: free elections for their leader.

They claim the current village chief, Li Baoyu, who is also the party head, was foisted on them by higher authorities.

Residents allege Li fraudulently obtained signatures to support the transfer of 33 hectares of farmland to Wanfeng Investment, backed by businessman Wu Guicun, to be used for factories producing electrical cables.

The village's ruling committee will receive compensation based on the yield of rice that would have been planted on the land. But residents fear they themselves will not be paid and say the compensation does not reflect the true value.

"Village cadres have illegally dealt in land and leased land at a low price," they said in a petition to higher officials.