WUKAN (Guangdong) • More than 1,000 residents of a southern Chinese village that was once hailed as a beacon of democracy in the Communist-ruled country marched in protest yesterday, demanding the release of the village chief, who was detained in a weekend raid.
The fishing village of Wukan in Guangdong province made international headlines in 2011 when it launched an uprising against corrupt former village leaders and land grabs. The rebellion resulted in provincial authorities sacking the former village chief and allowing fresh elections that saw many protest leaders elected on a landslide.
Villagers gathered near dusk, waving red China flags and calling for the return of seized land and the release of Mr Lin Zuluan, a former protest leader who was directly elected village chief in 2012. Authorities have now accused him of power abuse and accepting bribes.
More than 100 riot and paramilitary police in helmets and shields watched as the villagers, young and old, streamed around the village perimeter in a long procession, some jeering at the officers as they went and pumping their fists in the air.
"Do not assemble and protest again," notices posted by the regional government in the village read. "Do that at your own risk."
The protesters dispersed later in the evening, with another demonstration planned for today.
Mr Lin's wife told reporters that she has spoken to her husband by telephone since his arrest and that he had urged the villagers to keep fighting for the seized land and justice.
"It may be even bigger than before if things aren't resolved," said 50-year-old Xie Songbo, referring to the events of 2011, when Wukan barricaded itself for months and ransacked the local police and Communist Party headquarters.
The fresh unrest is rooted in continued frustration with the lack of progress on the illegal land seizures over the past five years and the failure to revive the local economy through agriculture and tourism projects.
Many blame higher township and regional authorities for obstructing Mr Lin and his team out of retribution for the 2011 uprising.
"We don't trust the government," said Mr Zhen Zaolin, a stocky villager whohad gathered with a group of angry men under a leafy tree to escape the sweltering heat.
"We must fight for Wukan's rights and free old Lin."