December 12, 2005

Riot police patrol south China town after protests

By Chris Buckley

DONGZHOUKENG, China (Reuters) - Riot police patrolled a
southern Chinese township where tension prevailed on Monday
nearly a week after demonstrations over land compensation were
ended by police opening fire on protesters.

China has confirmed police shot dead three people "in
alarm" during an attack on Tuesday on a wind power plant in the
Guangdong province township of Dongzhoukeng. Newspaper reports
said the official who ordered the shooting had been detained.

Two farmers said on Monday five protesters, in their 20s
and 30s, had been killed and many had been injured and were
hiding at home, fearful of going to hospital. Another resident
said about 20 men were still missing from the village.

"They were all good people," one of the farmers said on the
outskirts of the sandy township where one of the few signs of
life was riot police streaming off buses and taking up

China has seen a series of bloody protests pitting
residents against local officials over the issue of land rights
as breakneck development swallows up farmland and compensation
is watered down due to corruption.

But the Dongzhoukeng riots, over compensation for land lost
to a wind power plant, marked a level of violence rarely seen.

Human rights group Amnesty International said it was
thought to be the first time Chinese police had fired on
protesters since the military crushed the Tiananmen Square
demonstrations in 1989.

Estimates from residents and rights groups had put the
number of dead between two and as many as 20.

"I was scared to death," said a farmer's wife called Li. "I
can still remember the sound -- pow, pow, pow."


The government acknowledged the demonstrations were put
down violently, but said that was because riot police were
being attacked.

"Over 170 armed villagers led by instigators ... used
knives, steel spears, sticks, dynamite powder, bottles filled
with petroleum, and fishing detonators," the state-run Xinhua
news agency said.

But the two farmers said the protesters only brought out
pipes loaded with detonators after the police started shooting.

Analysts said the violent outcome of the protest showed
both how stretched China's security forces were in dealing with
increasing civil disturbances, and that directives on how to
handle such incidents were often unclear, leaving the
responsibility with local police.

"Increasingly, their number one fear is that in handling
protests they're going to ham-fistedly use force and cause
these things to spin out of control," said Murray Scot Tanner
of the RAND Corporation.

"That seems to be exactly what happened here," said Tanner,
who specialises in Chinese law enforcement and social

There were roadblocks outside the township with dozens of
police, some of them in riot gear.

A sign near the entrance to the town, in a poor part of the
province dotted with shrines and temples, read: "Strictly
manage land, create a harmonious society."

One farmer in his 50s surnamed Lin said many men had left
the village until the situation calmed down. He said residents
had received no compensation for the wind power plant.

"We didn't get a penny," he said. "All the money was taken
by officials."

(Additional reporting by Lindsay Beck)