January 18, 2012 / 7:37 AM / 8 years ago

China village rights in focus as new land grab sparks protest

(Reuters) - Around 1,000 villagers denouncing a suspected land grab protested outside a government building in southern China while a new local leader called for protection of farmers’ rights, newspapers reported on Wednesday.

The villagers, some carrying red and green banners denouncing corrupt officials, gathered outside the Guangzhou city government building on Tuesday, the South China Morning Post said.

They demanded compensation for land they said was seized by the Communist Party Secretary in Wanggang village and accused him of pocketing the equivalent of more than $63 million.

Wanggang lies within the economic powerhouse of Guangdong, where a tenacious months-long standoff in another village, Wukan, over land grabs made global headlines and prompted concessions from senior officials.

Party leaders, whose number one priority is maintaining social stability, are paying close attention to complaints and flare-ups.

As the protesters voiced their grievances, Zhu Xiaodan, Guangdong’s newly appointed governor, said the biggest challenge facing his region was “the surfacing” of social tensions.

“Farmers’ land rights are not protected by the rule of law, and can lead to conflict,” the Beijing-backed Wen Wei Po quoted Zhu Xiaodan as telling reporters at a provincial assembly in Guangzhou.

He called for legal steps to entrench farmers’ rights and for stronger mechanisms to ease social tension.

Land disputes do not directly threaten Communist Party rule, but underscore growing discontent as rising land prices provide an incentive for corruption among local officials keen to use land for development and boost local government revenue.

Inspired by Wukan, villagers at the Guangzhou rally said they would not give up.

“If our problems are not solved, Wanggang will become Guangdong’s second Wukan. The land is left by our ancestors, we will fight until the end to get it back,” the SCMP quoted villager Li Hongding as saying.

An official at the district government of Baiyun had no immediate comment on the incident when contacted by Reuters.

Officials met village representatives on Tuesday afternoon, but the crowds remained through the evening, Ming Pao reported. There was no indication whether the rallies had continued into Wednesday.

In another pocket of unrest in southern China, thousands of workers in Guangxi province went on strike at Foster Electric Company’s Nanning factory, according to China Labor Watch, a U.S.-based worker advocacy group.

Workers reportedly walked off the job in protest against managers retaining their year-end bonuses while cancelling the workers’ bonuses, the group wrote in a statement.

Guangdong, dubbed “China’s world factory”, and other parts of the country have been struck by a spate of strikes, with some factories reducing wages and benefits as orders for Chinese goods fall in the debt-hit euro zone and the United States.

Reporting By Sisi Tang and James Pomfret in HONG KONG; Editing by Charlie Zhu and Ron Popeski

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