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Wednesday, 15 November, 2000, 19:57 GMT
March against China banana tax
China map
By the BBC's Duncan Hewitt in Shanghai

Hundreds of farmers are reported to have marched on local government offices in the south-eastern Chinese provice of Fujian after a sharp increase in the levy they pay on their banana harvest.

Government officials and police are reported to be trying to end the protest.

An official in the nearby town of Zhangzhou told the BBC the farmers marched to local government offices demanding to see the county head.


The county head imposed an 80 % rise in the levy farmers pay for each kilogram of bananas they produce

He said town officials had been sent to the scene and had begun negotiations with the farmers.

Injuries reported

He refused to confirm reports from the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in China that several people had been injured in clashes with police.

The Hong Kong group, which says up to 1,000 people took part in the protest, said the unrest began after the county head imposed an 80% rise in the levy paid by farmers on the bananas they produced.

The group said this could cut the farmers' incomes by up to 40%.

The Chinese Government is highly wary of the prospect of unrest among its massive rural population.

Chinese leaders have acknowledged unfair tax burdens on farmers as a major cause of rural discontent.

Tax reduction promised

Following a series of peasant protests, national leaders have pledged to reduce the often excessive taxes and fees levied on farmers by local governments.

Yet local officials are not always keen to comply.

Some 22,000 farmers rioted in Jiangxi province in August after officials banned a book summarising central government plans to reduce the tax burden on the peasants.

In the latest protest in Fujian, the Hong Kong Centre said farmers demanded a democratic election for their county chief - a reminder of the potential for politicisation of such discontent, which is a particular concern for the authorities.

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29 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Chinese farmers in tax riot
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