Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have detained eight people following clashes with land protesters in the provincial capital Guangzhou, RFA has learned.
Several hundred police officers were sent to Tanwei village in Guangzhou's Liwan district on Wednesday after more than 200 local residents blockaded a mechanical digger in a bid to defend a group of "illegal structures" since Tuesday.
Video footage seen by RFA showed police addressing a crowd: "Everyone should trust that the government and the [ruling Chinese Communist] Party are dealing with this according to the law!"
But the protesters shout back: "We don't believe this!"
Local people said the clashes were sparked by the sudden arrival of a large-scale demolition gang in Tanwei on Tuesday morning, after sporadic demolition work had begun on some of the buildings earlier this month.
"They sent in a mechanical digger in the morning, and local people refused to let it pass, and blockaded it," a local resident surnamed Lu told RFA. "The riot police came fully armed with shields and batons, and ... they kept forming rows to push the people and drive them away."
"There was a lot of pushing and shoving, and eventually the riot police managed to surround a group of [protesters] and beat them up, before detaining them and putting them into police vehicles," he said.
"Of course there were people injured," Lu said, adding that a number of protesters went to hospital, but didn't suffer "serious problems."
The demolition team went on to begin its work on Wednesday.
A Tanwei resident surnamed Chen said local people suspected collusion between village officials and local businesses anxious to profit from the highly valuable land the buildings stood on.
"This land has great commercial value," Chen said. "Local people suspect that the village officials privately sold the land to business people. The local government was colluding with them when it said that the structures were illegal."
"We complained to the village and went to the district government, too," he said. "Complaints have been made, but no one cares. They just give us a perfunctory response."
A second local resident, also surnamed Lu, said the targeted structures were built more than 20 years ago by local people with their own money and are now rented out to companies as storage space, providing an income of thousands of yuan per person, annually.
"Just lately, the government suddenly declared these buildings to be illegal structures, and ordered their demolition," the second resident said.
"I asked the head of urban management, who told me that they could be said to be illegal structures," he said.
"They have tried to explain this to the local people a number of times," he said. "We are talking about an annual dividend of just over 4,000 yuan, less than basic social subsistence payments."
Calls to the Tanwei village committee offices, the Liwan district [ruling] Chinese Communist Party committee and government, and the Liwan police department all rang unanswered during office hours on Wednesday.
'Inconvenient' to discuss
An official who answered the phone at the Guangzhou municipal government offices referred enquiries to the office of urban management, or chengguan.
However, an officer who answered the phone at the Guangzhou urban management office declined to comment on the dispute, saying it was "inconvenient" to disclose specific details of the dispute.
"We have taken note of the situation you mention and we have handed it over to the relevant department for follow-up," the officer said. "We have to get a clear understanding of the outcome first, and we can't tell you about it. We have to protect the personal data of our citizens."
Local rights activist Liang Yiming confirmed that the police used violence to clear the way for the demolition team.
"Some of the local residents stood rather courageously in front [of the buildings], and they all got beaten up," Liang told RFA. "Some were place in a choke hold."
He said the detainees were all young people. "Their approach is to suppress anyone with the ability to speak out," Liang said.
"They detained all of the young, strong people, leaving behind only elderly people, women, and children," he said.
Reported by Gao Feng for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
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