Monday, December 12, 2005

Report #17 on the fall of communism

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Chinese Mourn Dead After Village Shootings

Monday December 12, 2005 3:01 PM

From Guardian Unlimited


Associated Press Writer

DONGZHOU, China (AP) - Mourners burned paper money in the street Monday in a traditional ritual for the dead after the Chinese government detained the commander of forces that shot and killed people protesting land seizures in a southern village.

Police in black uniforms guarded this coastal village northeast of Hong Kong, stopping vehicles entering the community and checking the identities of visitors.

The government tried Sunday to defuse local anger by announcing the detention of a commander whose forces opened fire Tuesday on villagers protesting the seizure of land for construction of a power plant. The government put the death toll at three, while villagers said as many as 20 people were killed.

If the higher death toll is confirmed, this would be the deadliest known use of force by authorities since hundreds, if not thousands, were killed around Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989.

Officials contacted by phone refused to identify the commander. But the Hong Kong newspaper Ta Kung Pao, which has close ties to the Beijing government, gave his surname as Wu and said he was deputy police chief of the nearby city of Shanwei.

On Monday, mourners burned paper money in the street in front of their home. Neighbors said they were the family of a man in his 20s who was killed in Tuesday's violence.

A woman, said to be the dead man's mother, lay on the ground looking exhausted. An elderly woman slumped between two people who supported her. Visitors wearing white cloth on their heads, a gesture of mourning, left condolence money in a box on the ground.

Another villager who refused to give his name said his neighbor had been killed and officials had refused to return the body to the dead man's family unless they agreed to cremate him immediately. The family was offered $5,000 in compensation if it accepted the terms, the man said.

The shootings Tuesday were the most violent clash yet in a series of confrontations in areas throughout China between police and villagers angry at seizures of land for power plants, shopping malls and other projects.

The government tried Sunday to mollify Dongzhou residents, announcing that medical teams were being sent from the provincial capital, Guangzhou, to treat the wounded.

But authorities also have sought to enforce order with a show of force as hundreds of police in riot gear patrolled the town.

On Monday, police had set up a checkpoint about six miles outside the village, where they stopped vehicles and asked passengers to step out to be frisked.

In the village, officials were hanging up red banners calling on the public to ``Strike at lawbreakers and uphold social order.'' Loudspeakers also blared warnings into the streets, telling people: ``Don't make trouble, don't spread gossip.''

The detained commander's ``wrong actions'' were to blame for the deaths, said a statement issued Sunday by the government of Guangdong province, where Dongzhou is located. It did not say what his actions were.

Suspects in China often are detained for questioning and further investigation before police decide whether to arrest them formally and file charges.

The government earlier defended the shootings, saying police opened fire after protesters armed with knives, spears and dynamite attacked a power plant before turning on authorities.

Villagers earlier had hung up banners appealing to the Chinese government to intervene in the dispute, according to residents. They said those banners were torn down Tuesday and burned by authorities.

Villagers said the dispute was simmering for more than a year.

The resentment boiled over Dec. 6, when thousands of protesters gathered outside the power plant and at a main intersection of the village, witnesses said. Most people interviewed asked not to be identified, for fear of official retaliation.

By the government's count, China had more than 70,000 cases of rural unrest last year. The incidents have alarmed communist leaders, who are promising to spend more to raise living standards in the poor countryside, home to about 800 million people.

President Hu Jintao's government has made a priority of spreading prosperity to areas left behind by China's 25-year economic boom. But in many areas, families still live on the equivalent of a few hundred dollars a year.


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