Thursday, March 31, 2011

Chinese Police Quash Protest Over Land Rights/WSJ

Chinese Police Quash Protest Over Land Rights

BEIJING—Chinese paramilitary police crushed a five-day protest by up to 2,000 Chinese villagers who complained that they weren't being paid enough to relocate for one of China's largest hydroelectric power projects, according to local officials.

The villagers set roadblocks, physically harassed officials and damaged government vehicles in Suijiang County in the southwestern province of Yunnan before being dispersed by paramilitary police on Tuesday afternoon, the officials said.

More than a dozen police were injured, they said. No demonstrators were hurt, said a local-government spokeswoman, who agreed to be identified only by her surname, Wu. The reports of injuries couldn't be independently confirmed.

The protest was one several examples of civil unrest triggered by land disputes in China, where farmers increasingly are being forced to relocate to make way for housing, golf courses or large infrastructure projects.

Suijiang County is on the border between Yunnan and Sichuan province. It is near the Jinsha River site of the Xiangjiaba Hydroelectric Station, which is designed to be one of China's largest.

Ms. Wu said that 60,000 of Suijiang's 160,000 residents were being forced to relocate and that the protesters said the compensation was too low.

She said the government's offer of 1,900 yuan ($290) per mu, roughly one-sixth of an acre, for each year of output was above the national requirement, but that many villagers didn't qualify to receive it. Many people who will lose their land in the county aren't registered as permanent rural residents so don't qualify for government compensation, even though they farmed the land, she said. China's longstanding hukou, or household registration, system divides citizens into rural and urban residents, with specific benefits afforded to each.

"There will always be some people who feel their interests are violated," Ms. Wu said.

Photos reportedly taken in Suijiang County were posted on Sina Weibo, a popular microblogging service like Twitter, and showed armored personnel carriers and columns of paramilitary police.

The Associated Press reported that about 400 paramilitary troops, militia members and tactical police units confronted protesters on Tuesday demanding that they disperse.

On Thursday, villagers described a heavy police presence in Suijiang.

"Now all the roads are cleared," said a 30-year-old woman, who agreed to be identified only by her surname, Huang. "There are military police patrolling the streets to avoid people gathering together."

Hydroelectric projects often have sparked unrest. In 2004, at least 20,000 villagers protested what they said was unfair land compensation as part of the Daduhe River's Pubugou dam project.

Because rural projects often are energy-related and tend to require more space than projects in urban areas, rural projects can be more likely to spark group opposition, in part to increase compensation, said Eva Pils, who researches Chinese law and land rights at Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Villagers realize they have little chance of saving their land, she said. "But you are given a little choice in how much compensation you get."

—Juliet Ye
contributed to this article.

Write to Brian Spegele at

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