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China cracks down on 'rebel' fishing village

September 13, 2016

Police used tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters in Wukan after clashes broke out over a series of arrests, Chinese media reports. The village gained fame for rebelling against the government in 2011.

Map China Wukan
Image: DW

Chinese authorities arrested 13 people before dawn Tuesday, in an apparent bid to curb months-long protests over the fate of Wukan's mayor, Lin Zuluan. The popular village chief was detained in June on corruption charges, which his supporters believe to be unfounded.

In a Tuesday statement, the police said they had arrested a "small number" of protest ringleaders, who incited the masses by fabricating rumors and using "threats, insults, force and bribes."

"In order to safeguard the interests of the masses and restore the normal order of production and local people's lives, local police decided to take action and apprehended them," the statement said.

The news of nighttime raids, however, sparked fresh violence in the 13,000-strong fishing village. Chinese media showed videos of street battles between police and protesters, with police using tear gas and rubber bullets. Other images showed demonstrators armed with bricks and rocks and protected by motorcycle helmets.

Citing a person with relatives in Wukan, the Reuters news agency reported that up to 400 riot police were at the scene, and that many villagers were injured. The village was on lockdown and internet connections were down, according to the source.

The police also issued a stern warning, asking people not to use social media to spread false rumors on "the so-called Wukan issue." Although many posts said to show the clashes in Wukan have been deleted, some images and videos managed to find their way to social media.

New clashes, old grudges

The Tuesday riots are only the latest chapter in the conflict between central government and the village in China's southeast. In 2011, its residents staged a large protest against alleged landgrabs and corruption, prompting the authorities to intervene. The situation escalated when one of the protest leaders died while in custody.

Wukan residents than rebelled against the security forces and raised barricades at the roads leading to the village, prompting a widely-publicized standoff. In the end, Beijing agreed to sack the old mayor and allow open elections, which protesters won in a landslide.

However, new mayor Lin Zuluan continued to bump heads with his superiors, preparing a new protest against landgrabs and illegal construction earlier this year. He was arrested a day before the scheduled rally, in a raid that saw hundreds of riot police enter the village and set up checkpoints outside it.

Lin confesses on air

Despite the heavy police presence, villagers organized protests that have continued for over 80 days. The rallies continued even after Lin admitted to taking some 593,000 yuan (about $89,000) in bribes, in a televised confession last week.

China Wukan Lin Zuluan
A protester in Hong Kong holds a portrait of the 72-year- old Lin ZuluanImage: Reuters/B.Yip

Many activists have previously accused China of pressuring suspects into confessions.

After the confession aired, thousands of Lin's supporters marched to a local government office to seek his release, carrying banner with their signatures and fingerprints.

dj/kms (AFP, Reuters, AP)