Violence subsided in Lufeng yesterday even as angry villagers continued to seethe over a reported government land sale that sparked two days of rioting in the Guangdong city.
The riots, which involved anywhere from hundreds to thousands, depending on different accounts, began early Wednesday morning with a protest outside the Wukan party headquarters and culminated on Thursday night with a rowdy siege of a local police station.
One villager said the unrest only stopped after villagers surrounded the police station and forced authorities to release four residents who had been detained for taking part in the rioting. Villagers vowed to block the station's entrances until the four were freed, he said.
'[The officials] had to release the four people because more than 2,000 villagers were besieging the border police station on Thursday night to call on police to free them,' the villager said. 'If they didn't release the four people, we would not let all people inside the police station leave.'
The resident said villagers believed there were '20-odd' people meeting in the station to work out a deal to end the explosive land dispute, including, a deputy mayor from the Shanwei municipal government, which oversees Lufeng, Hong Kong businessman Chan Man-ching, and representatives of the local and armed police.
Residents said Chan, who rented several hectares of land from the Wukan village committee to set up a pig farm more than 10 years ago, colluded with local officials to sell the land to Country Garden, a leading mainland developer, for more than one billion yuan (HK$1.22 billion).
A spokeswoman for Country Garden employed by a public relations consultancy denied yesterday that the company had signed any land deal in Lufeng.
'We don't have any property development projects in Lufeng because we haven't signed any contracts with relevant units in Wukan village,' the spokeswoman said.
Another villager said officials sent by Shanwei had also told residents the pig farm had not been sold, but no one believed them.
'It's the last piece of land in our village because others were sold by village officials one by one over the past years without our consent,' the man said, adding that residents wanted to select new village leaders.
'The current village officials do not represent us because they were all appointed by higher-level authorities,' he said. 'This time, we want to exercise our rights to select our own representatives who can defend the last land left by our ancestors.'
While villagers said thousands took part in the unrest, the government said only about 200 people were involved.
The government said the villagers, including women and children, blocked major roads. Some attacked a local restaurant, a textile factory and a farm, it said, injuring more than a dozen officers and overturning at least six police cars.
While the government said no civilians were injured, residents said that more than 10 were hurt, including three teenagers and seven adults. The city government said a special investigation team led by Lufeng's party boss and mayor had been set up to investigate the land dispute.