Riot police fired tear-gas and beat demonstrators who stormed government buildings in Haimen, a major town in southern China on Tuesday – just 75 miles from the rebel village of Wukan.
Haimen residents block the highway outside the town Photo: AFP/Getty Images
By Peter Simpson in Wukan 11:04AM GMT 20 Dec 201125 Comments
Residents of Haimen, a 130,000-strong town in the province of Guangdong, are demanding a coal-fired plant be moved, claiming it is damaging their health.
Web photos show a large gathering of people and riot police in a public square, and it is reported about 30,000 people in the town have gone on strike
Demonstrators are claiming a 15-year-old boy had been killed and more than 100 others badly beaten by riot police, but this has yet to be confirmed.
Government officials in the town have so far refused to comment on the incident.
Haimen is located around 90 minutes away to the northeast of Wukan village, where residents are in open revolt against the local government after what they say is years of illegal land grabs.
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There is no indication that the protests are related, but they are part of an upsurge in social unrest in Guangdong, China’s wealthiest province and the country’s manufacturing hub.
The Haimen riots broke out Tuesday morning – at the same time village chiefs from neighbouring small communities meet in Wukan.
They warned senior Communist Party officials the government faces a wilder revolt if they crack down too hard on restive communities.
“We have pleaded with the government not to come into Wukan and arrest people. If they fail to handle this properly, the neighbouring villages will be affected and this could cause larger unrest,” one of the neighbouring village chiefs, who gave his name only as Mr Cai, said at the meeting.
The caution comes as worried officials desperately seek an eleventh-hour cancellation of a potentially combustible protest on Wednesday on local Communist Party government offices.
The under siege residents of Wukan village in south China’s Guangdong province are demanding the body of land seizure campaigner, Xue Jinbo, whose suspicious death in custody over a week ago saw local party officials and police chased out.
“We don’t trust the government either. But we really hope the Wukan villagers can get on with lives in peace. We have told the government our villages sympathise with Wukan,” Cai added.
Unofficial Wukan representatives, Lin Zuluan and Yang Semao say they been summoned by the Guangdong provincial government for talks in a location of their choosing.
Lin has agreed to meet with vice-Party Secretary of the province, Zhu Minggao in the village ahead of the planned march tomorrow morning.
But the de-facto rebel leaders, who fear arrest, have issued a set of concessions in return for calling off the protest.
“The government must give us legal status and remove our criminal suspect title. They must do publicly. They also remove the blockade around the village. And they must release three of our village campaigners from custody,” Lin told the Daily Telegraph.
The government is desperate to avoid a volatile public showdown with the Wukan residents and have increased the propaganda war.
On local state TV, a ticker running across the bottom of the screen declares the village representatives criminal suspects and call on the community to stop its protests.
The villagers, including Xue’s relatives, are being bombarded by telephone calls from officials – warning them not to join the early morning protest rally.
“They even called Xue Jinbo’s family and threatened them with arrest if this continues,” said Yang.
However, the unofficial village leaders are likely to meet with resistance to call off the march even if their demands are met.
Emotions remain high over the death of Xue and resolve remains strong in the village – where resident numbers are put at 12-20,000 – for the protests to continue.
The main compensation demand for land seized by corrupt local officials working with businessmen has been temporally dropped.
Even as Lin and Yang spoke of concessions, some villagers remained committed to their cause of retrieving Xue’s body.
“We’ll still go ahead with the march,” said one resident, in sentiments echoed by many.
Led by Xue’s family, the villagers plan to carry an empty coffin for their fallen martyr.
Hundreds of armed riot police have been reported mustering in the area and many fear they will be deployed to end the stand off if negotiations fail.