BEIJING – About 2,000 disgruntled farmers have clashed with hundreds of policemen in China's northern region of Inner Mongolia in a land dispute that injured dozens in fighting one government official described as “anarchy”.
The July 21 clash in Qianjin village, a part of Tongliao city about 725 km (450 miles) northeast of Beijing, was one of a growing number of protests across China, most of which go unreported in the tightly controlled state media.
“We were caught by surprise. Police punched and kicked villagers even as they lay on the ground,” one farmer said requesting anonymity.
“We're ready to risk everything. If one government official comes, we'll take on one. If several come, we'll fight it out with several,” the farmer told Reuters.
Some policemen were armed with guns, but did not open fire, another farmer said.
The incident lasted about six hours, the second farmer said, adding that police were eventually outnumbered and fled after other villagers rushed to the rescue of those beaten up.
Dozens of injured villagers were taken to nearby hospitals, the farmers said.
Farmers seized bulldozers and other construction equipment intended for use in building a highway across the farmers' land, which had been reclaimed by the government, the second said.
Police reached by telephone declined to comment.
But Han Guowu, chief of Ke'erqin district in which Qianjin is located, insisted that police did not assault villagers.
“Police were under orders not to retaliate when hit or verbally abused and restrained themselves,” Han said in a telephone interview.
He played down the clash, saying villagers pelted police with chunks of hard clay, breaking the nose of one officer, smashing the window of a police car and breaking a video camera.
The farmers had refused to turn over their farmland and have blocked construction of the highway for two months, he said.
“The entire village is in a state of anarchy,” Han said.
He dismissed accusations by farmers that the government hired thugs to break into villagers' homes in the middle of the night and assault them. He also denied corruption allegations.
Land disputes, corruption, abuse of power and a widening gap between rich and poor were among the reasons leading to the number of protests shooting up to 74,000 last year from just 10,000 in 1994, a Hong Kong newspaper reported this month.
The number of people involved in those demonstrations jumped to 3.76 million in 2004 from 730,000 a decade earlier, the Beijing-funded Ta Kung Pao quoted Public Security Minister Zhou Yongkang as telling parliament's top advisory body.
Last week, farmers in the northern province of Hebei won a battle over land rights after months of protests culminated in a violent clash, one of the bloodiest in a wave of rural riots.
Some 300 toughs with rifles, clubs and sharpened pipes descended on Shengyou village in Hebei last month and clashed with the farmers, who were angry over a lack of compensation and staged a sit-in on land slated for a new lime plant.
Six villagers were killed and scores injured in the clash that highlighted growing disputes over land rights in China, where rapid development is encroaching on rural property and where the government places an overriding emphasis on the need for social stability.
Police had arrested 31, including the Communist Party chief of nearby Dingzhou city, who was sacked after a Beijing newspaper broke news of the riot, and detained another 131. (Additional reporting by Vivi Lin and Guo Shipeng)