Police armed with shotguns restricted movement in and out of the village of Wukan in southern China, the scene of protests this week following the death in police custody of a local butcher.
A dozen uniformed officers and three vehicles manned a checkpoint yesterday about 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) from the village, checking identification cards and preventing some people from entering. The restrictions remain after Communist Party officials began a probe of local officials and halted a real-estate development that sparked protests.
Wukan, about 150 kilometers east of Hong Kong in Guangdong Province, rose up in protest after the Dec. 11 death of a villager while in police custody. The local government said Xue Jinbo, 42, died of a heart failure. He was “suspected” of leading more than 400 villagers to “vent their anger” over a land dispute, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
“Several thousand” people held a memorial for Xue at a temple in the village center yesterday, the Wall Street Journal said, citing unidentified local residents. Xue’s remains are still held by local officials, the newspaper said.
Wu Zili, the acting mayor of Shanwei, which has jurisdiction over Wukan, said the government is “determined to crackdown” on “criminal ringleaders” who incited the protests and destroyed property, the China News Service reported. At the same time, he said the land development will be halted and local authorities questioned about the incident.
The standoff is the latest in a series of demonstrations that have sparked concern among Communist Party leaders seeking to maintain stability in the world’s most populous country, where three decades of growth averaging 10.1 percent a year has also led to increasing income disparities.
Conflicts over land transfers in China are the leading cause of unrest, according to an official study published in June. The number of protests, riots and strikes doubled in five years to almost 500 a day last year, according to Sun Liping, a professor at Beijing’s Tsinghua University.
The dispute, which began in September, was sparked by the sale of a locally owned pig farm to a property developer for the construction of luxury housing, the New York Times reported.
China News said the property development involved a real estate company with the same name as Hong Kong-listed Country Garden Holdings Co. Frederick Chan, a spokesman with the company, said in a Dec. 15 e-mail that the company “does not have any land in the village.”
State Department spokesman Mark Toner in a Dec. 14 interview called on “Chinese and local authorities to ensure a peaceful resolution” to the situation in Wukan.
A thousand armed police attempted to enter the village on Dec. 11 and were blocked, the Daily Telegraph reported, citing a local resident. Tear gas and water cannons failed to disperse the crowd and after two hours the police withdrew and barricaded roads to the village, the newspaper said. Wukan is currently being supplied by residents of neighboring areas carrying in food across fields, the Telegraph reported.
Xue and two others were arrested on Dec. 9 on suspicion of damaging public property and disrupting public services, according to Xinhua. He pleaded guilty to the accusations during two interrogations, Xinhua said, citing Zeng Songquan, Shanwei’s deputy chief of the public security bureau.
— With assistance by Michael Forsythe, and John Liu