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Birth control policy enrages

Clashes reported in rural China

BEIJING -- An intensive campaign to enforce strict population-control measures led to violent clashes between the police and local residents in southwestern China in recent days, witnesses said, describing the latest incident of rural unrest that has alarmed senior officials in Beijing.

Villagers and visitors to several counties of Guangxi autonomous region in southwestern China said rioters smashed and burned government offices, overturned official vehicles, and clashed with the riot police in a series of confrontations over the past four days.

They gave varying accounts of injuries and deaths, with some asserting that as many as five people were killed, including three officials responsible for population-control work.

A local government official in one of the counties affected confirmed the rioting in an interview by telephone but denied reports of deaths or serious injuries.

The violence appeared to stem from a two-month-long crackdown in Guangxi to punish people who violated the country's birth control policy. The policy limits the number of children families can have legally.

Corruption, land grabs, pollution, unpaid wages and a widening wealth gap have fueled tens of thousands of incidents of unrest in recent years, many of them occurring in rural areas that have been left behind in China's long economic boom.

The central government, expressing concern that unrest could undermine one-party rule, has alleviated the tax burden on peasants and sought to curtail confiscations of farmland for development.

But China's hinterland remains volatile compared with the relative prosperity and stability of its largest cities.

To limit the growth of its population of 1.3 billion, many parts of China rely more on financial penalties and incentives than on coercive measures, including forced abortions and sterilizations, that were common in the 1980s, when the so-called one-child policy was first strictly enforced.

But local officials who fail to meet annual population control targets can still come under heavy bureaucratic pressure to reduce births in their area of responsibility or face demotion or removal from office.