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1.17.2006
  10,000 Storm Troopers Descend On Chinese Town
A week of protests by residents of a town in China's southern industrial heartland exploded into violence last weekend with thousands of police officers brandishing automatic weapons and using electric batons to put down the protest and seal off the village, residents said Monday.

In Panlong village, about an hour's drive from the capital of Guangdong Province, residents said that as many as 60 people were hurt and that at least one person - a 13-year-old girl - was killed by security forces. The police denied any responsibility, saying the girl died of a heart attack.

Residents said that police officers had chased and beaten protesters and bystanders alike, and that locals had retaliated by smashing police cars and mounting hit-and-run attacks, throwing rocks at the security forces.

The clash in Panlong was the second time in a month that large numbers of security forces, including paramilitary troops, were deployed to put down a Chinese demonstration.

The protests coincided with a reported visit to the area by the North Korean president, Kim Jong Il. The secretive leader's visit, though never publicly confirmed by Beijing, was widely rumored, and some residents said it may have contributed to the nervousness of the security forces.

"The police arrived at 8 p.m. and then started beating people from 9 p.m., trying to disperse the crowd," said a schoolteacher who spoke by telephone, giving her name only as Yang. "When this happened, the crowd got very angry and lots of people picked up stones on the ground and threw them at the policemen. After being attacked, policemen were furious, they just beat up every one, using their batons."

The teacher was talking about Saturday night, the sixth day of protests in the area. Villagers said the demonstrations had begun as silent sit-ins, but grew more boisterous by the day as more and more people joined in. Eventually, they said, as many as 10,000 police officers were deployed, roughly twice the number of protesters at the peak of the demonstrations.

In December, in a protest in the nearby town of Dongzhou, residents said as many as 30 people were killed when security forces opened fire on villagers massed in demonstration against the construction of a coal-fired power plant in their midst. The provincial authorities have acknowledged three deaths, but blamed the villagers for attacking the police.

Unlike the events at Dongzhou, an out-of-the-way fishing village, the latest confrontation between villagers and a large-scale deployment of security forces occurred in rural enclaves in the midst of some of China's biggest and fastest-growing industrial cities.

Demonstrating residents of Panlong village said their anger had been sparked by a government land acquisition program they had been led to believe in 2003 was part of a construction project to build a superhighway to connect the nearby city of Zhuhai with Beijing. Later, the villagers learned the land was in fact being resold to developers to set up special chemical and garment-making industrial zones in the area.
 
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