Angry scenes in southern China amid land grab protest

BEIJING (AFP) - Villagers in southern China were Friday locked in a tense standoff with police after angry protests over land rights, a local resident said, as Beijing prepares for its annual meeting of legislators.

Residents of Shangpu, in the province of Guangdong, have occupied the village square since last Friday amid claims that corrupt local officials were selling local land, the US-based Radio Free Asia website reported.

Hired thugs employed by local officials attempted to remove the protestors on Sunday but were repelled in angry scenes which saw 30 cars being smashed, RFA said.

Police arrived to clear the square and became caught up in the clash, it added.

Six people were arrested, according to the website of the local Jiexi county government. Authorities have since called on the protestors to clear the square, RFA said.

A nearby resident who spoke to AFP said the demonstrators were continuing to occupy the square, in a protest echoing a dispute in the nearby village of Wukan which became a symbol of resistance against corruption last year.

The resident, who gave his surname as Lin, said: "Right now, both sides are in a stalemate, but there is no more fighting. Police have blocked roads to keep other people away. Meetings are being held."

Villagers in Wukan began protesting in September 2011 in what was initially seen as just another bout of social unrest in China, where land grabs have become a major source of discontent.

But the death of one of the protest leaders in police custody two months later led to villagers taking their demonstration a step further, barricading roads leading into Wukan and facing off with security forces for more than a week.

Then, unexpectedly, Communist Party authorities backed down and promised villagers rare concessions, including pledges to investigate the land dispute and allow village polls to be held in an open manner - a first in Wukan.

Many in Wukan claim little has changed since the elections, which were held at the start of last year's annual session of the National People's Congress (NPC), or parliament.

This year's meeting begins in Beijing on Tuesday.

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