11/15/2006, 00.00
CHINA
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Shandong: 20 injured in more protests against land seizure

Residents of Zhang Zhuang discovered that their land had been sold for a fortune while they received only 200 euros per head. In protest, 1000 residents "kidnapped" a local official who was released by 1,400 policemen.

Jinan (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Yet another violent episode of social unrest has shaken China, dealing a further blow to the country's image of a "harmonious society", so dear to the Communist leadership.

It was only today that news broke of clashes on 5 November in the eastern Shandong province, where the government sent 1,400 police riot police to disperse 1,000 villagers from a village on the suburbs of Jinan, who were protesting against the seizure of their land.

In the ensuing clashes, police injured 20 villagers who had "kidnapped" a district government official to protest against the authorities' corruption. Police have not yet withdrawn from the area following the clashes.

The protest came after a resident of Zhang Zhuang village discovered from an internet website that the government had sold land of his village to foreign investors for 720 million yuan (around 72 million euros).

One of them said: "If the government were honest, each of us would have received 300,000 yuan. Instead the central government guaranteed compensation of 5,000 yuan per person, but local officials paid us only 2,000 yuan [around 200 euros]." Further, "the village mysteriously ran into a debt of 10 million yuan, which we must settle."

After initial protests, the local government and investors promised the displaced people they would give them apartments in exchange for their land. But one of the first people to see these buildings said: "The quality was so bad that when the second storey was finished, the building sank 60cm."

The Zhang Zhuang protest is only the latest violent episode of unrest to hit the country. According to Zhou Yongkang, Public Security Minister, mass anti-government protests are on the rise, up from 10,000 incidents in 1994 to 74,000 in 2004. Last year the number was 87,000. Every day central authorities in Beijing record between 120 and 230 incidents, mostly in the countryside. Local administrators seize land and sell it to companies and industries that want to expand production. Villagers, cheated of their land and badly paid, have no other option but to resort to protest, often violently.

The government fears this trend and is pressing ahead with anti-corruption campaigns: the latest, launched on 13 November, orders local officials to deal fairly with the relocation of uprooted people.

A resident Zhang Zhuang said: ""We think the central government may have good intentions but local officials simply never listen to Beijing. They are setting up independent kingdoms."

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