01/16/2006, 00.00
CHINA
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Police clash with farmers over land seizures

Another protest is under way in the rich and developed province of Guangdong, which has seen the most violent clashes of recent months. Police attacked demonstrators who claim one person was killed and 50 were wounded.

Zhongshan (AsiaNews/SCMP) – Thousands of residents of Sanijiao village are pressing ahead with their protest against the government's seizure of their land despite violent clashes in recent days, in which police injured dozens of people. "The villagers will continue to protest until this issue is resolved," a man surnamed Tan said by phone. "Farm land is important to farmers, they need their land."

The problem lies in the lack of compensation for the lands the government seized from the farmers: one part will be used to build a highway and more than 200 hectares have been sold to a businessman in Hong Kong.

The protest turned violent on the night of Saturday, 14 January when more than 2,000 policemen indiscriminately attacked around 20,000 residents – including protesters and onlookers – who were on the highway. Tan said between 30 and 50 people were seriously injured in this accident, and other witnesses claimed at least one person – a 13-year-old girl – was killed in the clashes.

The scenario repeated itself the following day, when between 5,000 and 6,000 people turned out to protest. According to Xinhua, the government press agency, the clashes took place but "between just over 100 protesters and the police, who used no tear gas or electronic batons or water cannon as people claimed they did." The agency added: "No one died in the incident ... and police used no weapons while dispersing the crowd… Some instigators of the attack were detained."

The Zhongshan municipal authorities have ordered police and township officials to remain calm and avoid clashes with petitioners. The Mayor, Chen Genkai, further urged the township government to "consider the reasonable demands of the villagers and respond in a serious manner." Guo Feixiong, a lawyer who represents the farmers said: "We call on the authorities to begin talks with farmers to reach a negotiated settlement.

China's growing economy is fuelling increasing social tension. In recent months, a wave of frequent, serious incidents linked to the problem took place in the rich and developed province of Guangdong. In Dongzhou, police shot a group of protesters against land seizures in their village: 30 residents died as a result of the shooting. The government said there were only three deaths but admitted to using force.

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