April 28, 2010 / 11:27 AM / 10 years ago

Controversial SW China dam sparks new showdown

BEIJING, April 28 (Reuters) - Chinese police have seized a farmer who doused himself in gasoline and threatened to blow himself up to stop the demolition of his house, in the latest showdown over a controversial hydropower project.

Luo Qihui, 36, was detained after a 20-hour standoff with police in Dashu town in southwestern Sichuan province, his brother Luo Qidian, who lived in the same now-flattened courtyard compound, told Reuters.

The Luo brothers are losing their home and fields to the Pubugou Hydropower Station in Hanyuan, the largest in a string of two dozen dams punctuating the Dadu river.

Six years ago tens of thousands of people spilled into the streets to protest its construction, halting work, triggering deployment of a huge paramilitary police force and forcing the ouster of at least one Communist party official.

Some 12.5 million Chinese citizens have been moved for 86,000 dams since 1949, according to one recent study. These dam migrants have long fanned festering unrest.

Residents of many villages due to be submerged by the reservoir now building up behind the 186 metre high Pubugou dam say their concerns about tiny compensation offered for lost homes and farmland were never assuaged.

The three Luos were offered just 10,000 yuan ($1,465) and a 60 square metre home in exchange for a 200 square metre courtyard that houses all their families, Luo Qidian said.

They demanded 400,000 yuan ($58,610) instead, then scaled that down to 150,000 yuan, but got no response from authorities, prompting Luo’s desperate standoff when demolition crews arrived.

There were three gas canisters around the house that Luo threatened to blow up after burning himself, his brother said.

Police finally took him in on Saturday morning, detaining him on charges of "using violence to oppose the law", Luo added.

"There were about 500 armed police, firefighters with riot cars and bulldozers," he said, but added that police did not harm any of their family members.


China’s leaders faces widespread anger about ordinary people being forced to give up homes and land to make way for anything from infrastructure to luxury developments.

In Shanghai, site of the World Expo which opens this weekend, around 70 to 80 percent of petitions to high officials about perceived injustices in 2009 involved forced evictions, a human rights group said in a recent report. [ID:nTOE61703U]

Luo Qihui’s threatened protest, of self-immolation, has become a tactic of last resort for desperate owners, with at least four cases in recent months. Two of them died.

Police said Luo Qihui will be released on May 9, after a 15-day detention, although he has not been tried or convicted, his brother said. The local government has now verbally promised the family a 180 square metre home, Luo added.

Local government officials declined comment on the incident.

Water behind the dam is now 119 metres high, and has around 60 more metres to rise. One of the biggest projects of the state-owned Guodian Power Corporation, it is expected to be filled to its maximum level by the end of the year.

The reservoir will displace more than 100,000 people in total, most of whom have already been moved, the local government said on its website (www.yahy.cn). ($1=6.825 Yuan)

(Reporting by Huang Yan, Liu Zhen and Emma Graham-Harrison; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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