01/24/2006, 00.00
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China: to stop rural protests, shares in exchange for land

Proposed by Guangdong's Transportation Department. An expert: "It's absurd. If companies failed, what will the farmers do?".

Guangzhou (AsiaNews/SCMP) - Transport authorities in Guangdong have proposed offering shares in roads to peasants in return for their land in a bid to speed up road construction and minimise land disputes. But experts on rural issues doubt the feasibility of the idea.

The highway between Shaoguan and Ganzhou , and the Dongguan stretch of the highway between Dongguan and Huizhou have been chosen by the provincial Transportation Department to test the proposal. "It is not a good idea. I still feel the best way is to compensate peasants with the market value of their land,"  a scholar specialising in rural studies said. "If the enterprise were to go bankrupt, what would happen to the peasants? We keep wanting cheap prices, but we are talking about scientific development"

Pearl River Delta expert Zheng Tianxiang agreed there was some risk in the plan, but said it was better than existing land deals. "Peasants are shortchanged and they get a one-off payment, so [land for shares] is an advanced idea because there is no need to go through the government. They can negotiate a better price for their land and receive income through the years," Professor Zheng said.

A new land policy introduced in October allows investors to negotiate directly with villages, but such deals have to be approved by two thirds of adult villagers or two thirds of a village representatives' meeting. The policy was formulated in response to growing numbers of protests by villagers who felt cheated by local officials.

However, disputes that have erupted since then have become more violent, with police shooting villagers in Dongzhou, Shanwei, and the alleged killing of a teenage girl in a confrontation between police and villagers in Zhongshan. Guangdong party boss Zhang Dejiang was reportedly censured by the Politburo for mishandling the disputes.

Reports said the Transportation Department planned to invest 36.2 billion yuan in road expansion during the province's 11th Five-Year Programme, which starts this year. The department plans to expand the province's road network by 25,000km to 140,500km in the next five years.

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