12/17/2005, 00.00
CHINA
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Dongzhou: government's deafness led to massacre

The government is trying to make the 6 December massacre out to be a mere "accident fomented by a few agitators". Residents retort: "After the theft of our lands, a year of petitions and requests which were completely ignored."

Dongzhou (AsiaNews/SCMP) – Dongzhou village was a peaceful place in the western part of the country which lived off fishing in the Basha lake and off their crops: last week, the village became the latest epicentre of China's social revolution. After a massacre on 6 December – police fired to kill protesters – the government declared that "everything was an accident, started by a few agitators who were acting without respect for the law".

In truth, the protest started in response to forced seizure of land, inadequate compensation and to contempt shown by the public administration for the residents' requests.

For more than a year, Dongzhou villagers have complained that the local government had taken away their land for the construction of a coal-fired power plant; they say the lands were sold to external investors without warning, and that the compensation given them was 30% less than that stipulated by government rules.

The residents of Dongzhou said they sought the help of the government through petitions presented to the state administration. But they were always ignored. One resident said: "Government representatives offered to pay us only 10 to 30% of the compensation we are entitled to for the requisition."

The crisis intensified in May, when the umpteenth petition was met by the local government with an offer of 600,000 yuan (around 60,000 euros) as a one-off compensation sum. "What's the point of 600,000 yuan? We would have nothing if we lost the lake. They were trying to pay us off like alms-giving, but we are not beggars."

In July, a delegation of three residents - Huang Xijun , Lin Hanru e Huang Xianyu – was arrested for seeking to deliver another petition. The three were released only after their friends blocked the streets leading to a tourist village for 24 hours.

Things came to a head in September, when the accountant of the village committee, Huang Jinhe, was found dead in the home of relatives. "We believe Huang was murdered because he refused to falsify accounts for the committee a day before they were published," another villager said.

The accountant's death convinced his co-citizens to come together and to ask for help from the residents of Shigongliao, a neighbouring village which had faced similar problems in the past.

The villages' common front prompted the police to launch the first raid in Dongzhou to "search for drug traffickers". The first to be apprehended was Li Zelong, the leader of the protest. "We knew Li was an addict, but he gave up drugs three years ago," villagers said. "They took him because we trusted him and because he is knowledgeable about the law."

The arrest on 5 December sparked the protest and its bloody repression: the day after the "visit" of police, the residents of both villages went outside a wind-power plant on the main road out of the village, and struck it with clubs and fish bombs (a concoction of fertiliser soaked in kerosene capped in a glass bottle).

The local government dispatched 1000 riot squad policemen to "calm the population". "By mistake" the policemen shot and killed three people – according to the official version. Going by what the residents said, there were 20 victims in the massacre.

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