A violent melee involving 200 riot police armed with batons and tear gas, and about 40 farmers armed with hoes, sickles, and molotov cocktails, took place in China recently as a local land grab spiraled out of control.
Riot police descended on villagers in Yangshan County, Guangdong Province, on July 12, after the latter had trapped 80 Party cadres and policemen in a warehouse with their improvised petrol bombs on the disputed land. Along with the riot police were thugs or gangsters, according to villagers.
Photographs of the scene look as though they were taken from an action film: the two-meter-long truncheons being wielded by the police in the picture were reportedly bent in the course of beating the villagers, witnesses said. Elderly villagers were not spared the violence, locals said in telephone interviews.
Villagers say that local government officials stole their land, forcing them to accept a nominal amount, and then rented out the lands to the mining company for a profit.
Mr. Fung, a local villager, said that half the villagers in the area had agreed to sell the land, but the other half were furious about the deal and were unwilling to sell. They then obstructed the company from drilling.
By the end of the chaos, seven villagers were arrested, according to Southern Daily News.
Guangdong activist Tian Li told New Tang Dynasty (NTD) Television: “The mining company’s boss said that he rented the land from the government and ‘the villagers have no right to prevent me from building. I have already paid money to the village government.’ The government brought hundreds of police officers to get rid of the villagers and beat them.”
Tian Li thinks the government’s display of force will further anger the villagers. “Now the police have completely surrounded the entire village, and even the villagers who acted as informers were arrested. If the authorities dare to set them free, I believe in a few days thousands of villagers will immediately return to Yangshan County, and then a larger incident will happen,” he said.
Huang Qi, director of the China Tianwang Human Rights Service, said that the authorities should not simply violently suppress protesters every time there is an incident. Instead, he says, it would be better to listen to the people. He said that those injured by the police should be compensated.
Chinese Internet users who commented on the news reports were generally supportive of the villagers’ attempts to fight against the land grab. Appearing to respond to the claim by the local authorities that the villagers had engaged in an “organized and premeditated crime,” one netizen from Jilin Province wrote: “They will probably be heroes in a few years.”
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