BEIJING (AP) — Hundreds of troops were on alert for further unrest in a manufacturing district in eastern China on Tuesday, following sustained protests by residents demanding more compensation for farms given up years ago to make way for factories, residents said.
Paramilitary police and SWAT teams rolled into Huqiu district of Suzhou city, home of many foreign-invested factories, on Sunday following protests that have flared sporadically since July 15, said a man surnamed Wang who lives in the district's Tongan township and refused to give his full name.
"We're just ordinary people claiming our rights. And the government arrested us and beat us," Wang said, adding there have been no new protests since security forces arrived to reinforce local police.
Such disputes are common in China as swaths of farmland are razed to make way for factories, office parks, golf courses and other urban sprawl. Government officials involved in such projects are frequently accused of corruption, which the Communist Party recognizes is a threat to its rule.
Following the protests, Tongan township suspended demolitions and fired two top local officials, Party Secretary Wang Jun and Deputy Party Secretary Meng Xiaoyu, who was also the mayor, according to a report last week by the official Modern Express newspaper.
The two were fired for poor handling of compensation policies and public demands, the report said, without elaborating on whether they had been accused of corruption.
Hundreds were involved in protests over changes in government policy that now gives much higher payouts than what was allowed when many residents lost their farms in 2003, Wang said. He received 200,000 yuan ($29,500) in compensation, but now people can get 600,000 ($88,500) for homes in the area that was once covered in rice paddies, Wang said.
Photos of the protests posted online showed large crowds gathered on roads and in government offices amid heavy security, including police with riot gear. There were no clashes shown in the photographs, but Wang said he and others were beaten by police for trying to force their way into the local government building.
He said he also saw a woman being beaten by four or five local police officers, and that some people taken into police custody have not yet been released.
A resident in Huqiu district's Dongzhu township confirmed Wang's account of the protests and security presence. Police were guarding roads in his town, with paramilitary and SWAT teams stationed at the local middle school, said the man, who refused to give his name as is common among media-shy Chinese.
He added that the local government has failed to deliver on a promise to resolve residents' grievances by Sunday.
An official surnamed Mu in the Suzhou city propaganda department disputed that, saying authorities had provided a "satisfactory response," but refused to give any details. He added that the situation in Huqiu district was stable but acknowledged paramilitary police were currently posted there.
"They're there to ensure the social security," said Mu, who like many Chinese bureaucrats would only gave his surname.
Residents said they were afraid to launch more protests with so many police in the area. Notices were also given to parents with children at Tongan Middle School that included veiled threats of repercussions if there were further disturbances, according to Boxun.com, a Chinese-language site banned in China that is based in the U.S. and carries reports on issues rarely reported in state media.
"The Tongan incident has already been infiltrated by foreign hostile forces," it cited the notice as saying, though there has been no evidence of it. It said residents should avoid participating in protests and spreading news of it "to avoid giving yourself and your children a disappointment."