Property Protest Sparks Clashes

Chinese homeowners protest a developer's refusal of their property rights.

Two people were injured in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan during clashes on Wednesday after security forces were sent in to disperse an angry protest by local homeowners.

The protesters converged on the Shuangliu county government offices, in the same county as Sichuan's main international airport, over the government's refusal to issue official documents confirming their property rights, protesters said.

"About 400 of us came here this morning, holding banners that said 'I want my property rights'," said a protester and homeowner surnamed Qian from the scene of the clashes. "Then, around 100 riot police and regular police showed up."

"They didn't ask us what the problem was; they just immediately snatched away our banners and placards and started beating people up," he said.

He said county government officials had come out later to talk to the protesters.

"The leaders have come out to inspect things, but the county governor won't come and talk to us," Qian said. "We are all waiting here."

A second homeowner, who declined to be named, said he had seen women protesters beaten and injured by police. "Two or three people were beaten up and injured," he said. "Two of them were women."

Local sources said the crowd outside the government offices numbered around 600-700 people, including protesters and police.

"I had a banner with the words, 'Power to the People, I Want Property Rights,'" the second protester said. "My banner was ripped up and snatched away by the riot police."

Promise of shares

The protesters had all bought homes in Jiaolong New Block residential complex, an apartment building in Shuangliu county that is home to 700 families, from the developers, Jiaolong Economic Development Co. Ltd, Qian said.

They paid more than 2,000 yuan per square meter in 2007, and were promised the opportunity to acquire a share of the long-term leasehold rights to the land on a proportional basis.

Four years later, the company had failed to make good on its promise, Qian said.

"Now they are saying that all of us here in the residential complex are employees of their company, and that we are renting our apartments from them on 20-year leases," he said.

"They are refusing to admit that we bought them ... and we have already paid them all the purchase money," he said.

Qian said the government appears to have sided with the developers. "Everybody is extremely angry," he said.

A third Jiaolong resident surnamed Zhang said he had only bought the apartment on the basis that property rights would be part of the deal.

"They promised us that if there was more than 70 percent occupancy ... they would give us property rights," Zhang said. "We bought it on the basis of that promise, but now they are saying that an apartment we bought is being rented."

"All of us in the community want our property rights, so we have some security," he said. "The government is telling us we should take it up with the developer."

Developer tied to Party

Zhang said the owner of the development company was also the local representative of the local People's Congress.

"He is a county-level congress member, a Communist Party member, called Huang Yujiao," he said. "He is pretty well-known around here."

"We went to see him and he told us to seek out the government."

Calls to the Shuangliu county government offices and to the Jiaolong Economic Development Co. went unanswered during office hours on Wednesday.

In China, all land is ultimately owned by the state, but is allocated to urban property owners via a long-term leasing system, and to rural communities via collective contract and the household responsibility system.

Land acquisition for development, often resulting in lucrative property deals for local officials, sparks thousands of protests by local communities across China every month, many of which escalate into clashes with police.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.