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China village revolt leader named party boss
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Jan 16, 2012

One of the men behind a rare revolt against local Communist officials has been named party head of a Chinese village whose protest against land grabs became a symbol of public anger over corruption.

Residents of Wukan in the wealthy southern province of Guangdong faced off with authorities for more than a week in December after driving out local party officials and voting in their own leaders in a row over land seizures.

Among those elected was Lin Zuluan, who was named the new party chief on Sunday, replacing the businessman who had been Wukan's leader for 42 years and who was accused of stealing village land and selling it to developers.

Lin has been a party member since 1965, China's official Xinhua news agency said.

"This is a decision that everyone in Wukan supports and it is an important move that will help resolve the land and village finance disputes," a villager surnamed Zhang told AFP.

"The former party committee has been dissolved. The former head of the village party committee and other members of the committee have been detained and are under investigation for corruption."

The protests, in wealthy Guangdong -- China's manufacturing heartland -- became a nationwide symbol of rising public anger over a plethora of perceived injustices, from corruption to income disparities.

Anger boiled over on December 9, when detained community leader Xue Jinbo died in police custody allegedly after being beaten, prompting the Guangdong provincial government to intervene on behalf of the villagers.

The villagers ended their blockade after it promised to release three detained protest leaders, return Xue's body to relatives and send a team of provincial officials to Wukan to investigate the claims of illegal land grabs.

"The land issue is still not resolved, but the investigation is making progress and the villagers are optimistic of a positive outcome," said Zhang, who asked that only his surname be used.

The three detained protesters have now been freed, but Zhang said Xue's family was still negotiating with authorities over terms for the release of his body.

Authorities say he suffered a heart attack, but relatives who saw his body have said it showed signs of torture, and are asking for an official apology as well as the compensation they have already been promised.

Land disputes are a major headache for Beijing, causing more than 65 percent of rural China's "mass incidents" -- the one-party government's euphemism for large protests -- according to official think tank the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said in comments published Monday that rampant requisitioning was even threatening China's ability to grow enough food.

"Every year, several million hectares of land are being requisitioned," Wen said in a December 27 speech published by the weekly Communist Party magazine Qiushi ("Seeking Truth").

"From today onwards, the pressure to protect arable land will become very high, as industrialisation and urbanisation advance...

"Land contracts, land-use rights and collective land distribution rights are the legal assets bestowed to farmers by law."

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