China: Police massacre in Guangdong village

The community of Dongzhou in Guangdong province is in a state of shock four days after paramilitary police opened fire on thousands of demonstrators protesting against seizure of their land to build a coal-fired power plant.

The shootings took place when villagers demonstrated to demand the release of the campaign’s leaders. Despite official denials, reports are emerging that as many as ten protesters may have been killed. Villagers said as many as 50 other residents remained unaccounted for. As The New York Times pointed out, "The use of live ammunition to put down a protest is almost unheard of in China, where the authorities have come to rely on the rapid deployment of huge security forces, tear gas, water cannons and other nonlethal measures. But the Chinese authorities have become increasingly nervous in recent months over the proliferation of demonstrations across the countryside, particularly in heavily industrialized eastern provinces like Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Guangdong."

Massive clash

The Guardian quoted an eyewitness: "I guess there were about 10-20,000 locals and more than 1,000 police, including militia. The police used rubber bullets first, then villagers threw petrol bombs and pipe bombs at them, so the police used some kind of machine gun …"

News reports claim local officials are offering Dongzhou residents cash payments to cover up the killings. The South China Morning Post newspaper quoted villagers saying authorities were trying to conceal the fatal shootings by offering families money to give up bodies of the dead.

"They offered us a sum but said we would have to give up the body," an unidentified relative of one slain villager, 31-year-old Wei Jin, was quoted saying. Police were using photos of villagers and trying to find people linked to the protest, the newspaper said, citing local sources. The village is still encircled by hundreds of armed police, with authorities refusing to allow residents to leave the area.

"Many police are surrounding the village today," said one woman. "We are not permitted to leave the village." A 14-year-old girl told the newspaper, "The riot police are gathered outside our village. We’ve been surrounded," she said, sobbing.

66 million forced off the land

Official Chinese news media have made no mention of events in Dongzhou which is close to the Hong Kong border. China experiences bewteen 90 and 120 rural protests every day, with an even higher number in the urban areas. The most common issue triggering rural protests, as in Dongzhou, is the seizure of farmland and low levels of compensation paid. Corrupt government officials working hand-in-glove with property developers or industrialists have become millionaires by ripping off poor rural communities and selling the land at a enormous profit. In the last thirteen years, 66 million peasants have been driven from the land in this way, leaving them with no means to make a living other than joining the vast army of migrant sweatshop labour upon which China’s export-driven economic model is built. In recent years clashes have grown more violent, with 23 policemen killed so far this year and many times this number of protesters. But the death toll in Dongzhou, if the unofficial reports are accurate, would make it one of the worst outrages in recent years. This exposes the empty rhetoric of the Beijing regime about "solving" the crisis in the rural areas, where income levels – in real terms – have actually fallen in recent years.

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December 2005