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Chinese villagers at war with army over land deal

Daily Telegraph - March 12, 2013

Beijing Chinese soldiers cut off power and phones, fired tear gas and stun grenades, and beat protesters in a southern village to try to end an 18-day rebellion on Sunday.

Dozens of villagers in Shangpu were admitted to hospital and six people were arrested, according to witnesses on Monday. "They came at about midnight, or maybe half an hour later. They cut off the power first," said one villager involved in the fracas.

About 60 people were injured, mostly older people. Some of them had broken bones, one had a stun grenade explode in his face and may need to go to the provincial hospital.

"There were more than 3000 officers. All the roads were full of police cars and other vehicles. People with friends in the public security bureau said 3000 to 4000 people were sent."

Other villagers said they had fought back for about three hours using spades, stones and wooden sticks, and that the police had left in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Several of the security officers, who villagers believe were sent by the local government, wore plain clothes. However, one paramilitary policeman posted his own account of the raid on Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter.

"We have returned victorious, how exciting! Tossing stones, throwing flash grenades, stun grenades, tear gas, really exciting but very tiring too. Luckily we all came back without injury," wrote Chen Zhiming.

For the past three weeks or so, the villagers of Shangpu have been locked in a stand-off with the local government over a 33 hectare plot of land that they claim was sold from underneath them without their consent.

In late February, several hundred thugs armed with steel pipes and spades threatened the village with retribution if they did not accept the deal. The villagers, however, retaliated and chased the thugs away, burning many of their cars and then using the wrecks as a barricade to block the road.

A spokesman for the local government said the intervention on Sunday had been to clear the road for traffic, but declined to comment further.

Despite the raid, and the loss of their barricade, villagers said they would continue to press for the return of their land.

"We are still not happy because the land contract has not been returned to us. We are defending the village now with live-or-die determination," said the villager. He added that he expected more senior Communist Party leaders to make a decision.

The villagers have already won a partial victory. Li Baoyu, the head of the village committee who sold the land has been arrested and the authorities said they are seeking several others.

Meanwhile, the authorities in nearby Jieyang city have reportedly agreed to scrap the land deal, but are yet to deliver written proof to the villagers.

The protest was remarkably similar to the dispute in Wukan, just 100 kilometres away, in late 2011. There, villagers forced through new democratic elections after chasing out the local Communist Party and successfully repelling the police for several weeks.

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