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Wang
Jun 19, 2005, 11:08
Peasants fighting back in rural China
As land-dispute battles grow, a farmer tapes a deadly clash on video, GEOFFREY YORK writes

Saturday, June 18, 2005

BEIJING -- For the second time in recent weeks, Chinese peasants have emerged victorious from violent clashes sparked by protests against government land-development schemes.

The bloody clashes are the latest signs of mounting unrest in rural China, where villagers are fighting back against government efforts to seize their land for industrial developments.

Protests have been steadily rising across China in recent years, although they remain disorganized and fragmented. Land grabs, where impoverished peasants often fail to get proper compensation, are among the main reasons for the violent conflicts that often explode in the wake of the rural protests.

In the latest incident, a videotape by a farmer has revealed the full horror of a deadly attack on protesting peasants by hundreds of heavily armed thugs last weekend. Six farmers were killed and dozens injured in the battle, making it one of the bloodiest land-dispute clashes in the country in recent years.

Surprisingly, the violent dispute has been openly reported by some of the more adventurous of China's media outlets this week, showing the extent of the public sympathy for the rural protesters.

The latest clash erupted in the village of Shengyou in Hebei province, about 220 kilometres southwest of Beijing, where farmers were battling against a state-owned power plant. The power-plant developers wanted to build a storage facility on 27 hectares (67 acres) of local farmland, but hundreds of farmers resisted the scheme and occupied the disputed land because they felt that the compensation offer was unfair.

Their occupation, which began in 2003, led to a growing spiral of violence. Local officials harassed the villagers and arrested their leader. The farmers built makeshift shacks and trenches on the disputed land and refused to leave.

Two months ago, a gang of 20 thugs -- apparently hired by the power plant or the local government -- attacked the farmers with metal pipes.

But the farmers captured one of the thugs and kept him in a pit.

Then, last Saturday, about 300 thugs descended on the peasants at dawn, armed with long-handled shovels, hoes, hunting shotguns, flare guns, metal pipes, clubs and poles with blades attached. Many of the attackers wore construction helmets and military-style camouflage clothes.

The videotape, first obtained by a Beijing newspaper, shows the attackers rampaging through the field, clubbing wildly with their weapons. The thunderous noise of shotguns and flare guns can be heard, with smoke and flames visible. Screams and curses can be heard.

The farmers fight back against the attackers with wooden poles and pitchforks. At one point, they knock down one of the assailants and club him repeatedly as he lies motionless on the ground. The four-minute videotape abruptly ends when the farmer with the digital video camera is forced to flee from the assailants. He reportedly suffered a broken arm in the battle.

Of the six slain farmers, most reportedly died from bullet or stab wounds. One of the attackers also died, the Beijing News reported.

Several days after the deadly attack, the farmers continued to hold the disputed field and the captive attacker from the previous clash. Government officials have scrambled to defuse the situation by placating the protesters. Two leading officials of the nearby town of Dingzhou, which controls Shengyou village, were fired after the latest clash, and the government has paid thousands of dollars in compensation to the victims' families.

The Chinese media have continued to report sympathetically on the plight of the protesters.

Yesterday, the Beijing News published an investigative report on how the attackers had forced the drivers of five buses to take them to the disputed field on the morning of the attack. "The gang took away the cellphones of the drivers," the newspaper reported.

"When they reached the site, each driver was watched over by two men. The rest of the men took their clubs and ran off. When they returned, some of them had blood on their clothes, and some still held iron pipes or clubs."

Two months ago, more than 10,000 villagers rioted against 3,000 policemen in a similar land dispute in Zhejiang province, south of the city of Hangzhou. The farmers said their land had been seized for chemical factories without proper compensation.

To the shock of many observers, the peasants won the clash. In the end, the local government ordered that six of the 13 factories must leave the region.


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RockLee
Jun 19, 2005, 11:24
It's rediculous how the state always wants to force people off their land to build factories, and not even compensate properly :okashii: Hope there will be major changes in the future