Protesting Chinese villagers killed in confrontation with police

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Monday, December 12, 2005

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Chinese security forces have sealed off a village where police have allegedly shot and killed up to 20 people, in what has been touted as the most lethal use of force by authorities since the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Days after reports of the shooting leaked out, Beijing has confirmed that police had opened fire last Tuesday on villagers protesting against land seizures. According to government statements, three people had been shot dead as police quelled a demonstration. The incident came after months of protest against the building of a power station, which villagers say was on stolen land.

Authorities have arrested the police commander accused of authorising the shootings. Hundreds of police have blocked roads into Dongzhou village, part of Shanwei city in Guangdong province near Hong Kong.

Villagers claim that up to 20 people died in the clash. They say 300 people have been arrested for protesting in recent months. Last Tuesday's demonstration was to demand the release of three more who had been detained.

A government statement, released after a four-day news blackout, said the villagers attacked police with sticks, knives and Molotov cocktails. "Police were forced to open fire in alarm," it said. "In the chaos, three villagers died, eight were injured, three of them seriously."

However, villagers claimed that the protest was peaceful and, at most, only fireworks had been thrown into the air. One teenager said: "We didn't expect the police to open fire. They threw tear gas first and then they shot."

According to newspapers in Hong Kong, residents say that police are going from house to house offering money to take away the bodies of those who died, in order to reduce the visible death count.

Local government officials say the killings will be investigated, but rather than blame the officers who pulled the trigger or gave the order to fire, it accused three local men of stirring up unrest, adding: "They must shoulder the legal responsibility for what happened."

The report, which was carried by the state-run Xinhua news agency, made no mention of claims by villagers that up to 20 people were killed, some of whom were said to have been chased and executed.

Locals quoted in the Hong Kong and foreign media said bodies were left in the street and in the sea. Shots were reported many hours after the initial clash.