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July 23, 2017

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Thousands of villagers rally over China landgrab

WUKAN, China -- Thousands of residents of a Chinese village under police blockade rallied Thursday to demand the government take action over illegal landgrabs and the death in custody of a local leader.

The people of Wukan — a fishing village in the wealthy southern province of Guangdong with about 13,000 inhabitants — accuse corrupt local officials of stealing communal land without compensating them.

Wukan has been the scene of repeated and at times violent protests over land seizures, a hugely contentious issue in China, where authorities are accused of colluding with developers in lucrative real estate deals.

Local anger boiled over with the death Sunday in police custody of a village leader tasked with negotiating with authorities over the row. The village, which has been abandoned by local officials, is now surrounded by police checkpoints.

An AFP correspondent at the scene said the village was peaceful but there was an atmosphere of defiance, and anger over the death of Xue Jinbo.

Authorities say the 42-year-old suffered a heart attack while in custody. But relatives who have seen his body say it showed signs of torture, and suspect he was beaten to death.

"I feel very surprised about that because my father has never had heart problems. I cannot say definitely that he was beaten to death, but I can tell you, he was been beaten in many places," his daughter Xue Jianwan told AFP.

"There were bruises everywhere. If they did not beat him, where could the bruises have come from?"

Residents marched around the village outskirts on Thursday carrying photographs of Xue and banners calling on the central government to come to their aid.

"We are very scared that more people will be arrested, but we cannot accept that one of our respected leaders was beaten to death," one of them said.

"We have no justice. Our land has been taken away and villagers are arrested and beaten to death. The people here are furious, but we have to remain calm. Only the central government can rescue us from corrupt officials," added the villager, whose name AFP is not using for her safety.

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