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Democracy efforts in China met with fists

BEIJING -- Thugs trying to stymie pro-democracy activists in a village in southern China severely beat an elections specialist and are terrorizing foreign journalists who approach the village.

Events in the village of Taishi, in the prosperous Pearl River Delta region of southern China, underscore the local powerbrokers' drive to crush an embarrassing recall effort against a village chief, as well as broad Communist Party efforts to quell unrest under the guise of maintaining social stability.

Political activist Lu Banglie, 34, was dragged from a taxi taking a journalist for Britain's newspaper The Guardian to Taishi on Saturday. People in police and army uniforms dispersed, allowing several dozen thugs to beat Lu unconscious.

In an account published yesterday in The Guardian, journalist Benjamin Joffe-Walt, a native of Philadelphia, said men kicked Lu, stomped on his head, and continued to beat him for 10 minutes. It said Lu lay with a stream of blood coming from his mouth, his body limp and twisted.

The Voice of America reported that Lu said in an interview yesterday that he lost consciousness during the beating and didn't wake up until the next morning. He said doctors told him he had no major injury, but he said he was in pain and dizzy.

Lu, an activist from central China's Hubei province, had been in the Taishi area since early August helping local villagers mount a recall campaign against a village chief accused of malfeasance. The grass-roots campaign and Lu were the focus of an Aug. 25 Knight Ridder story that looked at the rising tide of discontent in China's rural areas.

After the Knight Ridder account appeared, Lu sought out more foreign journalists to report on the tense standoff between residents and the chief in Taishi.

But a lawyer for the residents, Guo Feixiong, was quickly arrested. And in recent days, thugs began blocking foreign journalists from approaching Taishi, which is about an hour's drive from Guangzhou, China's largest city along the Pearl River. Under pressure, residents abandoned their push for a recall election.

On Friday, men wearing red armbands marked ''security" stopped journalists from the South China Morning Post and Radio France Internationale outside Taishi and punched them, telling them they couldn't enter, the newspaper reported yesterday.

On Saturday night, as Lu was dragged from his taxi and battered, thugs punched Joffe-Walt and tried to pull him and his translator from the taxi, according to Joffe-Walt's published account.

Land speculators, industrialists, and party cadres have deployed gangs in rural China to squelch uprisings by farmers and factory workers demanding back pay, compensation for land, and legal rights.

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