11/18/2004, 00.00
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Beijing steps in to defuse Sichuan dam crisis

Although local residents welcome the central government's decision to sack some local officials, they still want the army to pull out.

Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) – The central government has stepped in to defuse a crisis in Sichuan province where villagers rioted over plans to build a dam in Dashu Township (Hanyuan County). The dam project is expected to force more than 10,000 local residents off their land who reacted by protesting over the meagre compensation offered for their expropriated farmland.

The central government sacked a number of local officials, a move that was welcomed by locals who said they no longer trusted them because they were ignoring their plight. "We don't trust local governments any more but we certainly have confidence in the central government," said a resident of Dashu Township.

Wang Yang, a vice-secretary-general of the State Council, met local cadres on Monday to announce the sackings. He promised villagers that the Pubugou Dam project on the Dadu River would not resume until an agreement on relocating them had been reached.

But despite Beijing's intervention, local residents still say that tensions remain high. Army units are still patrolling the area to prevent further clashes.

Speaking to more than 1,000 provincial, city and county officials, Mr Wang said the central government gave top priority to protecting the interests of the people. He added that troops were necessary to "protect assets of the state and your safety and your property, and maintain social order".

His explanation was not however well received by villagers who said that the military presence was unnecessary because they wanted only to safeguard their legitimate rights.

Clashes broke out in Sichuan last month and reached crisis level in early November when people from seven townships clashed with police to stop the damming.

Residents were outraged by the fact they were being asked to move from their rich and fertile farmland for a puny compensation.

Local authorities claim that a police officer died in the clashes. Local residents claim instead that two civilians died.

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