your connection to The Boston Globe

Chinese attribute deadly clash to 'a few instigators'

Beijing says 3 villagers killed during protest

BEIJING -- China yesterday blamed a deadly confrontation between authorities and demonstrators in a village near Hong Kong on ''a few instigators" who organized an attack on a wind power plant, prompting police to open fire.

China said in its first official comments on Tuesday's confrontation that three villagers were killed. Residents, however, said as many as 20 people were killed.

The state-run Xinhua News Agency said police opened fire on villagers in Dongzhou, a village in Guangdong Province, after a mob formed a blockade on the road and began throwing explosives at officers. Three villagers were killed and eight were wounded, Xinhua said, quoting the Information Office of the neighboring city of Shanwei.

However, residents have said that as many as 20 people were killed when police opened fire on a crowd of thousands protesting against inadequate compensation offered by the government for land to be used for the new power plant. Villagers said dozens of people were missing.

A Hong Kong newspaper said villagers accused Chinese officials of trying to cover up the killings.

It was the deadliest known use of force by Chinese authorities against civilians since security troops opened fire on pro-democracy demonstrators at Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, killing hundreds and perhaps thousands. Although police often use tear gas and truncheons to disperse demonstrators, it is extremely rare for them to fire into a crowd.

The clash in Dongzhou also marked an escalation in social protests that have convulsed the Chinese countryside over land seizures for factories, power plants, shopping malls, and other projects. Farmers often say they are paid too little and some accuse officials of stealing compensation money.

Authorities called the assault by villagers ''a serious violation of the law" and said a special group was formed to investigate the incident, Xinhua said.

Before the fatal attack, police used tear gas to break up a mob of about 170 villagers armed with knives, steel spears, sticks, and explosives, Xinhua said. Two villagers were arrested.

The report said the instigators then formed a mob of 300 villagers to blockade a road leading to a neighboring village to force police to release the suspects. Police opened fire after the villagers began to throw explosives at police and one of the instigators threatened to blow up the power plant, Xinhua said.

Hong Kong's South China Morning Post newspaper Saturday quoted Dongzhou villagers as saying authorities were trying to cover up the killings by offering families money to give up the bodies of the dead.

''They offered us a sum but said we would have to give up the body," an unidentified relative of one slain villager, 31-year-old Wei Jin, was quoted as saying. ''We are not going to agree."

Hong Kong reverted to Chinese control in 1997, but the former British colony maintains a high degree of press freedom. Its proximity to Dongzhou gives reporters good access to events there.

One woman in the village said by telephone that police were holding some bodies of dead protesters and refusing relatives' pleas to give them back.

Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives