STREETS have been locked down in Longnan, Gansu Province, after thousands of residents attacked the city’s Party committee office building in a protest over relocation issues, Xinhua news agency reported.
More than 60 people, including police officers and state cadres, were seriously injured as the violence erupted on Monday and continued until last night.
The protests began when negotiations broke down between dozens of relocated residents and officials from the Communist Party Committee of Longnan City, the report said.
The city government had relocated an unclear number of residents so that it could build a new administrative office center, according to Xinhua.
More 30 relocated families went to the Party committee on Monday morning petitioning city leaders to solve their housing issues. Officials entered negotiations, but no agreement was reached, the report said.
More people joined the families and soon the mob began to smash the Party committee’s office building. Some beat up armed police soldiers at the scene, destroyed vehicles and vandalized office building facilities, the report said. Police officers were ordered to evacuate the area, which led to a much bigger response later.
People at the gate of the Party committee building began to throw stones, bricks and even pots at officials and police officers. They also used iron bars, chains, axes and pick hammers to attack the officials and police officers starting at 9pm on Monday, the report said.
Some mob participants smashed 11 government vehicles and were involved in robbery, Xinhua said.
Gansu has set up a task force to handle the emergency situation, the report said, adding that Longnan Television station broadcast a government announcement to tell people the truth.
More than 30 residents in Dongjiang Town, Wudu District, who faced resettlement, gathered at the city's government around 9:30 a.m. on Monday, asking the authorities for proper solutions concerning their farmland, housing and livelihoods.
The unrest resulted from a planned relocation of the city's government which would force the residents to be resettled. The protesters talked with some officials on Monday but they failed to reach any agreement. On Monday night, more people joined them and some of the protesters attacked government buildings, damaged vehicles and facilities, and injured some policemen.
The government's relocation plan has not been approved by the central government yet, the report said.
On Wednesday, the website of the People's Daily, the party's mouthpiece, published a comment piece blaming the local government for the riot, in an unusual move apparently aimed at placating the protesters.
The report pointed out that the protest had been triggered by a small number of people but had been allowed to escalate.
'Just over 30 people is not a lot, if the local government authorities had conscientiously received them, conscientiously listened to them, protected their personal interests, would the mass protest have happened afterwards?'
'Therefore... the incident in Longnan has revealed that some local governments ignore people's interests, and that they look down on solving conflicts'.
The government said the protest was triggered on Monday by about 30 people whose houses had been demolished to make way for a new government building, in an apparent typical 'land grab' case that often leads to protests in China.
But as the global economic slowdown hits China and thousands of workers are laid off, the Communist Party is becoming increasingly concerned that any protest might escalate into broader unrest and form a challenge to its rule.
Reports surfacing on Internet blogs suggested that the demonstration went on till Tuesday morning as protestors camped at the place through the night and the police chose not to break up the crowd out of fear of backlash.
Internet postings suggested that the people of Longnan are refusing to accept a government relocation program to make way for a new government building that was being partially funded by earthquake relief funds. Gansu, which neighbours Sichuan province, was also affected by the May 12 earthquake though to a lesser degree.
Chinese politicians, who have been talking about creating an "harmonious society", has been worried about the rising resentment among the people over income differences and official corruption that often result in land sharks and property dealers taking away the homes and property of the poor and the middle class.
residents cited the plan to move the government offices. The move, they said, would lower real estate values and deprive Longnan of desperately needed jobs.