BEIJING (Reuters) - Just under 15,000 people were moved from their homes to make way for the venues of the Beijing Olympics and all moved voluntarily with compensation, officials said on Tuesday, countering rights groups’ allegations that hundreds of thousands had been evicted.
The Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) said last year that up to 1.5 million Beijingers would be evicted from their homes in the run-up to August’s Games, often in a brutal and arbitrary manner with little compensation.
“Construction of the Beijing Olympic venues involves 14,901 persons of 6,307 households,” Zhang Jiaming, vice-director of the Beijing Municipal Construction Committee, told a news conference at the basketball venue for the Games.
“The relocation projects enjoyed the support of residents involved ... All the relocated households signed the relocation agreements and moved voluntarily; no one was forced out of their homes,” he added.
Zhang was speaking specifically about those areas where the homes were replaced by venues, not the other areas of the city where thousands of people have been evicted to make way for the skyscrapers of the new business districts.
COHRE also included in its estimate those people shifted to make way for the $35-40 billion upgrade of the city’s infrastructure in time for the Games.
All but one of the 31 venues for the Games have been completed and the National Stadium is scheduled to be handed over by the end of March.
Zhang said the venues for the Games had been planned to utilize existing facilities as much as possible and to “minimize the scale of relocation”.
Some 80 percent of those relocated — 10,355 people — had been moved from the Olympic Green, home to most of the Games venues, Zhang said, and they had all been compensated.
“The relocation of Olympic Green took place from 2002 to 2003, when the price of commercial apartment was priced from 4,000 yuan to 6,000 yuan ($559.3-$838.9) per square meter,” he said.
“On average each house received about 700,000 yuan ($97,870) in compensation.”
Evictions from homes and farmland have caused widespread protests, petitions and sometimes riots across China in recent years, with residents complaining of inadequate compensation and corruption.
Riot police were deployed last year to evict protesters on the site of the construction of the huge new headquarters of state television network in Beijing but not before someone had daubed “The Olympics — a lifetime of pain” on a wall.
Reporting by Beijing news room; Writing by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Alex Richardson