Small Chinese village revolts; Crackdown near

BEIJING - China's government has vowed to crack down on the leaders of a revolt in a southern village and investigate local officials over land seizures at the heart of the residents' unhappiness.

The protests in Guangdong province are part of a growing trend of confrontation between Chinese and their government over the seizure of land for business development projects. Residents in Wukan village have complained that their farmland was sold by local officials to developers to build factories without their consent.

Wu Zili, acting mayor of Shanwei city, told reporters Wednesday that strong measures would be taken against Wukan villagers who instigated others to create trouble and damage public property, according to the China News Agency.

The mayor promised to investigate village officials for wrongdoing and to impose a temporary freeze on the development of the village's farmland until a majority of villagers are satisfied with the conditions of the land transfer.

The residents have essentially taken over the fishing village of 20,000 people after officials either fled from earlier protests, absconded with the money from land sales or were fired, according to various accounts.

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Problems in Wukan date back to September, when hundreds of villagers angered by the land dispute smashed buildings and clashed with police. In the months that followed, villagers have submitted petitions and sought meetings with higher level officials.

The current unrest started about six days ago when police started taking away key village representatives. Villagers fought back, blockading the roads with tree trunks and barriers to prevent police from entering.

About five days ago, police started blocking roads leading to Wukan and prevented food from being transported in, villagers reached by phone have said.

On Sunday, Xue Jinbo, a man accused of participating in the September land protest, died in police custody, further angering residents, who suspected he was beaten. Chinese media reported that local police and provincial authorities said Xue died of cardiac failure.

With a booming economy, demand for land to build factories and housing complexes has soared. Land disputes have grown apace, becoming one of the leading causes of the tens of thousands of large-scale protests that hit China every year.

Around Wukan village and in much of the rest of Guangdong province, conflicts have been intense because the area is among China's most economically developed, pushing up land prices.