11/22/2011, 00.00
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Protesters shout “No to dictatorship’ in Guangdong

About 5,000 residents in Wukan, a town in the rich southern province, take to the streets to protest against government election fraud and forced land seizure. For the first time, they call for an end to the Communist regime’s ‘dictatorship’. Increasingly, social unrest is besetting China.
Beijing (AsiaNews) – About 5,000 people from Wukan, a town in the rich southern province of Guangdong, took to the streets yesterday to protest against the lack of democracy and the government’s failure to keep its promises. For the first time, demonstrators openly labelled the Communist regime a “dictatorship”, demanding a reckoning for the seizure of their land and fraud in local elections.

According to a series of messages on Weibo (microblogging) services (others like Twitter are censored in China), thousands of people have demonstrated against corruption and land grabs. Pictures posted on line show banners saying ‘No to dictatorship’.

Every year, tens of thousands of episodes of social unrest are reported in China. Local authorities are the usual target because of embezzlement and land speculation. The central government is usually not criticised.

One of the Wukan demonstrators is quoted as saying that a petition against the land grab was signed by 4,500 people. Another anonymous microblogger said that more than 10,000 people took part in the protest.

The event was peaceful. So far, there have been no reports about arrests or charges. In previous episodes, protests often ended in violence with attacks against government offices and police.

After the protest started, local authorities said they would task a special team to hear the demonstrators’ grievances. However, that was not good enough for protesters who want justice for the 12,000 residents who had their farmland seized and sold off without compensation.

Seizing land is the main source of income for municipal and provincial governments. In China, land formally belongs to “the people”, but in fact, they are managed by local politicians.

They are often seized for resale to private interests to fuel the booming real estate market, which for economists has not become a bubble ready to burst.

In the past two months, housing prices have in fact started to drop in many cities, including Beijing and Shanghai.

Under Chinese law, local authorities must pay farmers compensation for land they expropriate. Too often however, the amounts paid out are inadequate. In many cases, land is seized for infrastructural projects funded by big banks.
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