Police Fire on Protesters in China, Killing Several

By JOSEPH KAHN

New York Times

December 9, 2005

BEIJING, Friday, Dec. 9 - At least four protesters and possibly many more were shot dead this week by riot policemen in Guangdong Province, as a simmering dispute over land use turned into a protracted violent confrontation, a rights group and Hong Kong news outlets reported Thursday.

The incident occurred in Dongzhou, a coastal village, when paramilitary policemen shot into a crowd of angry villagers who were trying to prevent the construction of a wind-powered electricity plant, according to Amnesty International.

Hong Kong news media quoted villagers as saying the police initially used tear gas to disperse the crowds.

But after some local fishermen used explosives in retaliation, paramilitary and army troops were deployed with orders to shoot.

Amnesty International said it could confirm the deaths of 4 people and had been told by some villagers that up to 10 people were killed. Hong Kong news reports quoted other villagers as saying that 20 to 50 people had been killed and that the police had fired indiscriminately with machine guns.

Even the lower toll would be unusual in China. The police reported that there were 74,000 large-scale incidents of social unrest in 2004, but in the vast majority of them, neither the police nor protesters used firearms or other lethal weapons.

Land seizures are one of the most common sources of social unrest in the country. Local governments, eager to promote development, often take land away from peasants for minimal compensation and then sell it for a sizable profit.

The wind-powered electricity plant was part of an effort to increase clean power production, according to Chinese reports on the project. But local farmers felt they had not been adequately compensated for land taken away from them, and some fishermen feared the plant would pollute the ocean.

Protests have been continuing for several months. They turned violent this week after the police detained several protest leaders and other villagers demanded their release.

There were no reports on the incident in the mainland Chinese press, and local, provincial and central government agencies issued no immediate statement.