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April 24, 2012 2:03 pm
Beijing has punished two former officials who ran the village of Wukan for their roles in illegal land sales that sparked protests last year and turned the small southern Chinese village into a potent symbol of rural activism.
Xue Chang was Communist party chief of Wukan for four decades until last year’s protests, which were sparked by anger over his alleged role in the sale of large tracts of communal land. The subsequent outbreak of people power led to a tense 10-day stand-off in December between the villagers and police, which ended only after the provincial government promised open elections to the village committee.
The villagers’ stand inspired copycat action and led some to suggest it offered a model for a more democratic China.
A provincial taskforce, created to investigate the events in Wukan, found that Mr Xue and the former head of the village committee, Chen Shunyi, were guilty of corruption and manipulating elections, according to a statement on an official website.
Mr Xue was asked to return Rmb189,200 ($30,000) to the government and expelled from the Communist party. Mr Chen was also expelled and asked to return Rmb86,000. A total of 20 former officials were punished.
Villagers said that given the scale of the alleged misappropriation of communal land over several years the punishment was too lenient.
“It’s unimaginably little money,” said Hong Ruichao, one of the activists detained in December who is now a deputy director of the village committee elected last month. “This money is not even enough to build a house. Every one of these officials has a villa of their own.
“Villagers hope all the corrupt officials will be sent to jail.”
Xue Jianwan, the daughter of a village activist who died in police custody in December, sparking daily protests by thousands of villagers, denounced the punishment as “too light”.
Ms Xue said that the authorities appeared to have missed the extent of the alleged fraud by the former village chiefs. “The illegal gains are much more than these,” she said. “This is almost an invitation to more corruption.”
Zhu Mingguo, a trusted lieutenant of Guangdong’s most powerful party official, Wang Yang visited Wukan last week and raised hopes that some of the land involved in illegal sales would be handed back. Mr Zhu told villagers that part of the land seized would be returned to communal ownership by May 1. Mr Zhu led the delegation sent by Mr Wang in December to broker a deal with villagers and bring an end to the police blockade of the village.
Mr Wang is one of the leaders seeking promotion to China’s highest decision-making body later this year and is widely viewed as one of the moderates in the party who may benefit from the sacking of Chongqing party chief, Bo Xilai. Avoiding a brutal crackdown in the stand-off between police and thousands of villagers with the world’s media in attendance was seen by analysts as a boost for Mr Wang’s political prospects.
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