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Chinese village stand-off continues after land row

By Chi-Chi Zhang, CNN
updated 7:08 AM EST, Thu December 15, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Wukan residents claim land has been seized illegally and then sold on by officials to developers
  • The villagers are also mourning death of a fellow villager who died in police custody last weekend
  • Xue Jinbo was suspected of leading hundreds of villagers in protests, state media said
  • Protesters say he was beaten but officials say his death was caused by cardiac failure

Beijing (CNN) -- A stand-off between thousands of villagers and authorities in southern China continued Thursday, amid protests over illegal land seizures.

One resident told CNN that local officials were driven out of Wukan village in Guangdong Province as villagers sought to protect their land from being overtaken by developers.

"We're afraid the police will storm in and arrest us or even kill us," said a local farmer who gave only his surname, Huang, for fear of being identified.

"They've also cut off some supplies coming into the village, so we're running low on food."

The residents of the fishing village claim land has been seized illegally and then sold on by the local government to developers for the past decade.

News of one recent sale of nearly 1,000 acres of land to developers prompted protests by villagers who say they have not received any compensation and rely on the land for their livelihood.

"All we want is our land back so we can support our families," Huang said. "It's unclear what will happen next but we have nothing to lose now."

It's unclear what will happen next but we have nothing to lose now.
Wukan resident

Meanwhile, residents are also mourning the death of a fellow villager who died in police custody last weekend. They suspect that 42-year-old Xue Jinbo was beaten to death, but state media reported that he died of natural causes.

Xue was suspected of leading hundreds of villagers in protests over issues of land use, money and local elections in September that led to two days of rioting, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

His death was caused by cardiac failure and no apparent signs of assault were found on his body, the news agency quoted an investigator with the Guangdong Provincial Procuratorate as telling reporters.

But Huang said villagers suspect foul play and are angry that the government still has custody of Xue's body and have declined to return it to his family.

The Shanwei city government, which administers the area, said in a statement Friday that it had settled some of the complaints that led to the riots, Xinhua reported, and that two local officials had been fired.

The local government has so far not responded to a request for comment from CNN.

China has since censored searches for "Wukan" in online micro-blogs and other Twitter-like feeds to prevent the spread of information about the unrest. Searches on Sina Weibo for "Wukan" only result with the message, "according to relevant laws and regulations, results for Wukan cannot be displayed."

Disputes over land use in rural areas of China have increased as discontent has grown over local corruption and environmental issues.

Huang said he is not sure how long the protests -- and virtual blockade by the authorities -- will carry on, but negotiations with authorities are continuing as villagers are afraid to leave the village for fear of arrests and beatings.

On Wednesday, thousands gathered in the village for more than two hours to mourn Xue's death and chant for the return of his body along with calls for justice and democracy.

Huang said residents are planning to do the same on Thursday and will be armed with knives, wooden sticks, and rocks in case police storm the village to arrest people.

"Right now, we are all very nervous, but prepared to defend our land and our rights," said Huang. "If the police are ruthless enough to kill Xue, we know it could happen to anyone."

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