Chinese village on lockdown following clashes, reform demands (PHOTOS)

Chinese village on lockdown following clashes, reform demands (PHOTOS)
Residents in southern China are locked in a standoff with authorities following violent clashes with unidentified attackers allegedly hired by corrupt officials to enforce a questionable land deal.

Police have blockaded the settlement of Shangpu in Guangdong province following the unrest, which was started just over a week ago, the South China Morning Post reported. Residents of the village refused to allow officials in, just days before the annual meeting of the Chinese legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC).

Around 30 battered cars, many of them overturned, littered the main streets of the village. Close to the entrance of the settlement, where around 40 police and officials stood watch, a cloth banner read: “Strongly request legal, democratic elections.”

Residents have claimed that the clashes were sparked when assailants, many reportedly wearing orange hard hats and red armbands, drove into the village the previous Friday and assaulted the residents with shovels and other weapons.

Some of the attackers reportedly carried knives and guns, while a video showed one man who was later identified as a plainclothes police officer firing a handgun into the air in an attempt to quell the violence.

Residents fought back with bamboo poles and bricks taken from a nearby construction site, witnesses and footage provided to AFP revealed. The villagers eventually drove the attackers off and continued to riot, voicing anger over the incident. At least eight residents were injured in the melee.

AFP Photo/Peter Parks

AFP Photo/Peter Parks

Locals claim the thugs were hired by a Communist Party chief and a business tycoon to stifle dissent over a contentious deal to transform rice fields into an industrial zone. They have demanded the right to vote for their local representative, and a say in whether or not to appropriate the land for development.

“This should be decided by a vote by villagers,” one of the protest leaders told the daily, adding, “The village chief should represent our interests, but he doesn’t.”

Residents fear that security forces will swiftly reassert control following the end of the NPC, which kicks off on Tuesday.

“For the purpose of maintaining stability, [the authorities] don’t want to use forceful measures before the meetings,” another villager told the paper. “We are afraid of them coming back.”

AFP Photo/Peter Parks

AFP Photo/Peter Parks

The tense standoff was reminiscent of similarly violent clashes in the fishing village of Wukan – around 60 miles from Shangup – about 15 months ago. In late 2011, demonstrations in Wukan quickly escalated to violence after a protest leader organizing locals against an alleged land grab died in police custody.

After residents barricaded roads in a tense 10-day standoff with security forces, authorities eventually backed down, allowing elections for the first time in the village’s history.

AFP Photo/Peter Parks

AFP Photo/Peter Parks

AFP Photo/Peter Parks