Thousands Riot Over China Land Seizure

November 10, 2006 Updated: November 10, 2006

HONG KONG—Thousands of Chinese villagers clashed with riot police after barricading officials and foreign businessmen in a warehouse they said has been built on illegally seized land, a newspaper reported on Friday.

The clash erupted on Wednesday near Shunde, in the southern province of Guangdong, during the opening of the warehouse, which villagers said had been built on land grabbed by officials and sold off to developers, Hong Kong's Apple Daily said.

The villagers only began to disperse the next morning when police used tear gas.

China has struggled to smother rising flare-ups of social unrest in recent years, sparked by issues ranging from corruption, forced layoffs, land grabs without compensation, to disparities in wealth between the rich coastal belt and the impoverished hinterland.

Up to 10,000 blockaded the warehouse entrance in the village of Sanzhou, trapping 300 assembled dignitaries, including Guangdong officials and Hong Kong and foreign businessmen inside, the newspaper said.

Around 1,000 police and riot police arrived to defuse the standoff, but the villagers stood their ground, refusing to leave unless the corrupt officials were investigated, the paper said.

It was only when police began firing tear gas the following morning that the crowds dispersed, according to witnesses quoted by the paper.

Photographs showed riot police standing on a wide highway, clasping transparent riot shields.

Ten people were arrested, the newspaper said.

Villagers interviewed by the paper said of some 9,000 acres (3,650 hectares) of land in the village of Sanzhou, half had been sold off illegally by officials last year.

In January, China's Ministry of Public Security said there had been 87,000 “public order disturbances, obstructions of justice, gathering of mobs and stirring up of trouble” last year, a 6.6 per cent increase from 2004.