Chinese police seal off protest village after death of activist

Beijing

A stand-off between locals and the authorities in China's wealthy Guangdong province deteriorated yesterday, as police sealed off a village to try to crush protests over government land seizures and the death of an activist in police custody.

Police have blocked roads leading to Wukan, a fishing village of about 20,000 people. Videos posted online showed hundreds of people gathered for a rally, shouting slogans and pumping their fists in the air. The villagers complain that farmland has been sold by local officials without their consent for developers to build factories.

In late September, a protest by hundreds of villagers turned violent, with residents smashing buildings, overturning vehicles and fighting police. Last Friday, police raided Wukan and arrested five land-rights activists. One of them, Xue Jinbo, died in detention on Sunday after he "confessed" to destroying public property, and family members who have seen the body say he appeared to have been tortured.

Catherine Baber, Amnesty International's deputy director for the Asia-Pacific region, called for an independent investigation. "Sadly, despite government rhetoric pledging to protect citizens during evictions, we continue to document reports of residents getting beaten up, detained, or even killed while trying to protect their land, sometimes by the very authorities who are supposed to protect them," she said.

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