BEIJING – Chinese police opened fire on villagers protesting against the lack of compensation for land lost to a new wind farm in the southern province of Guangdong, local officials and residents said on Wednesday.
U.S. broadcaster Radio Free Asia and residents said at least two villagers were killed in the assault after riot police moved into the area on Monday to quell the unrest in the Guangdong village of Dongzhou.
“In the beginning, there were about 100 to 200 villagers protesting and gradually the number got bigger as more and more people came to watch,” said an official surnamed Chen in the nearby city of Shanwei.
“The police didn't bring guns at first, but some villagers used pipe bombs to attack the police, so the police station sent more police with guns to the scene,” he said.
Police detained three representatives from Dongzhou on Tuesday, which prompted thousands more to come and demand their release, the Radio Free Asia report said, putting the number involved in the demonstration at 10,000.
China has seen increasing disputes over land rights and compensation as breakneck development encroaches into rural areas, and popular protests are becoming more frequent.
Guangdong is one of the provinces that is pioneering wind power as China, the world's top coal producer and consumer, looks to renewable power sources to help alleviate an energy crunch and choking air pollution.
Residents said they did not object to the new plant but to the fact that they had not been properly compensated for their land.
“The central government sent money for compensation but the corrupt officials who were supposed to give it out stole it away,” said one resident.
It was unclear how many people were injured or killed in the clashes.
Radio Free Asia, quoting a hospital official, said two villagers had died. One resident said “several” people had been killed while another, whose husband participated in the protest, put the number of dead at 20.
“No one dares go out,” said one, adding that parents were keeping their children home from school.
An official at the Dongzhou hospital said he had not heard of any deaths but that several injured were in hospital.
Another resident said when she left work on Tuesday the air was so thick with tear gas she could not open her eyes.