Violent Protests Roil Chinese Village

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Deaths resulted as Chinese paramilitary police and anti-riot units responded to violent protests in Dongzhu. Farmers and fishermen say the goverment has unfairly seized their land for a power plant.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

In China this week, land disputes are said to be the cause of an eruption of violence in Dongzhou; that's a rural village northeast of Hong Kong. Local farmers and fishermen reportedly attacked Chinese police with homemade explosives. Anti-riot units and paramilitary police responded with automatic weapons and so far, more than 20 residents are reported to have been killed. These clashes are believed to be the worst use of violence against citizens in China since Tiananmen Square in 1989. The Chinese government hasn't yet issued a statement about these events. The Washington Post's Edward Cody joins us now from Beijing.

Ed, thanks for being with us.

Mr. EDWARD CODY (The Washington Post): Thank you.

SIMON: What's the basis of this dispute? The government wants to put up a power plant in town?

Mr. CODY: Well, the government wants to put basically a wind farm. It's going to be wind-generated electricity; that would also include a plant that gathered and distributed the electricity. It's part of a larger project. The farmers claim that they have been inadequately compensated for the land, and they also claim that a sort of tidal inlet that they call a lake, in which they fish a lot in, that that would be spoiled and they would lose that resource for their village. And they've been at this for some time now; there've been a lot of protests, a lot of complaining and so on. And on Tuesday it exploded into the violence.

SIMON: Can these protests be linked to any kind of larger restiveness in the Chinese countryside?

Mr. CODY: Well, you can link it inasmuch as it's one of a great number of these incidents that are popping up all over the country, and very frequently they have land confiscation as the underlying reason. There's a tremendous pressure on farmland in China. As the economy develops at this boom rate that we have that's, you know, 9 percent a year. And there very, very often are disputes over how much it's worth, whether it was right to take it away, whether the officials involved were corrupt, were they not getting part of the money, and so on.

SIMON: And the resort to using lethal force to put down the protest. Is the Chinese government trying to send a message that would suppress other protests?

Mr. CODY: The pattern so far has been that there are riot police who are unarmed--I shouldn't say unarmed, but don't carry firearms, and they have used truncheons, they've used high-pressure water hoses, they've used tear gas on occasion. But they just haven't been using firearms. In this instance, the people's armed police were also involved, and when the explosives were thrown at them, they responded by opening fire and that's a first, certainly a first in this wave of riots. But it's hard to say to what degree that was thought out and deliberately decided on.

SIMON: Washington Post's Edward Cody in Beijing.

Thanks very much.

Mr. CODY: You're welcome.

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