Published: Monday May 21, 2007
Police clashed violently with protesters in southern China as thousands of angry farmers rioted over the nation’s controversial “one-child” family planning policies, residents said Monday.
Angry farmers besieged up to four township governments in Guangxi province on Friday and Saturday, with police and protesters clashing in at least one demonstration, they said.
The demonstrations occurred after local governments this month dispatched “family planning work teams” to levy fines on families that were violating government population control policies, they said.
One woman in Shapi township, speaking on condition of anonymity, said up to 20,000 people had gathered and rioted there on Saturday, hurling rocks, breaking windows and torching public property.
“The farmers were really angry because the family planning team was going around to homes and making farmers pay fines if they had too many kids,” the woman told AFP by telephone.
“If the farmers had no money they took things from them. Property with value they confiscated, things with no value they destroyed.”
The work teams confiscated everything from livestock, to electronic goods and household items such as pots and pans and teapots, according to the woman and other accounts by locals posted on the Internet.
Photos on the Internet showed family planning work teams dressed in military fatigues and helmets carrying sledge hammers as they marched through Guangxi villages.
On Friday, similar demonstrations erupted in neighbouring Shuiming township, with locals confronting up to 1,000 police armed with clubs and dogs, one witness said.
“It’s hard to say how many people were there, (but) you could say there was a sea of people,” a man in Shuiming township told AFP also on condition of anonymity out of fear of government retribution.
Hong Kong press reports said up to 50,000 farmers protested against the family planning policies in the four Guangxi townships in recent days. Residents and Internet postings indicated the situation was calm on Monday.
Authorities were trying to impose fines ranging from 6,000 yuan (780 dollars) to more than 60,000, depending on how many children the families had, according to the residents contacted by AFP and the Hong Kong reports.
Local and provincial government and police departments refused to comment on the unrest when contacted by AFP Monday.
China has since the 1970s enforced strict family planning measures to control its population, which at 1.3 billion people is the world’s biggest.
Reports of abuse by authorities enforcing the law, such as forced late-term abortions and forced sterilisations, as well as arbitrary fines, are common.
In general, China’s urban dwellers are allowed one child, while rural families can have two if the first child is a girl.
Online chatrooms were awash with postings on the unrest, with some saying that the provincial government had ordered the family planning crackdowns in regions where the population was growing too fast.
Other postings said that local governments were levying the fines in order to raise salaries and bonuses of government workers in the impoverished province.
The protests come against a backdrop of rising social discontent nationwide as the gap between rich and poor has widened during China’s breakneck economic growth.
According to the latest figures from the Ministry of Public Security, there were 87,000 protests, officially termed “mass incidents,” reported in 2005, up 6.6 percent on 2004 and 50 percent from 2003.