China rebel village, government edge towards compromise

WUKAN, China, (Reuters) – Chinese villagers who  have protested for days over seized land and a suspicious death  postponed a march on a government office today, while top  provincial officials blamed the conflict on pent-up social ills  and laid out a compromise offer. In a sign that the confrontation that has simmered for more  than a week in Wukan, in the southern province of Guangdong, may  be easing, a village organiser said the march would be put off  until at least tomorrow, when residents would decide whether the  government had offered enough concessions.

“Now, (we) will give them one day to reach a consensus. If  not, next day,” Lin Zuluan, a village elder, told reporters late  yesterday, before he held talks with Zhu Mingguo, a senior  Guangdong province official. Although the Wukan rebellion is limited to one village, it  has attracted widespread attention as a humbling rebuff to the  ruling Communist Party, which values stability above all else.

Wang Yang, the Communist Party chief of Guangdong, obliquely  acknowledged that the villagers had cause to complain, in  comments published yesterday in the Southern Daily, the  official province newspaper.

“There was something accidental about the Wukan incident,  but also something inevitable,” Wang said, according to the  report.

“This is the outcome of conflicts that accumulated over a  long time in the course of economic and social development,”  said Wang, who is seen by many analysts as nursing hopes of a  spot in China’s next central leadership.
Guangdong is a prosperous part of China. But the wrenching  shifts of urbanisation and industrialisation have fanned  discontent among increasingly assertive citizens, who often  blame local officials for corruption and abuses.

DEATH IN CUSTODY

For more than a week, Wukan villagers have driven off  officials and police, and held protests in outrage at the death  in custody of activist Xue Jinbo, whose family rejects the  government’s position that he died of natural causes, and  against the seizure of farmland for development.

They and fellow villagers believe he was subjected to abuse  that left injuries, including welts, on his body. Xue was  detained over torrid protests that broke out in September.

Yesterday, however, about 300 villagers lined the sides  of a road into the village, preparing to welcome, Zhu Mingguo,  the official negotiating with them.  A man holding a Chinese flag on a pole told the villagers  over loudspeaker: “Everyone welcome the Communist Party’s work  team.” Villagers unfurled a banner welcoming officials to come  and help “solve the Wukan matter”.

“Now that the government is coming, I think we’ll get a good  result,” said a villager surnamed Xue. “The central government  has already appealed on our behalf. They know the problem and  have sent someone down, they will find a solution for us.”

The Southern Daily also explained the concessions that Zhu  has offered to the villagers, including foreswearing punishment  of rioters who “show sincerity in working with the government to  solve the problems”. Zhu also promised an impartial autopsy for the late Xue, and  “transparent” disclosure in the media of how the villagers’  grievances are addressed.

Underscoring government fears of unrest, in a separate  protest on Tuesday in Haimen, a town further east up the coast  from Wukan, residents demonstrated in front of government  offices and blocked a highway over plans to build a power plant.

Pictures on a Chinese microblogging site, Sina’s “Weibo”  service, which could not be independently verified by Reuters,  showed hundreds of people gathered in front of the offices as  riot police kept watch.

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