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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 December 2005, 13:38 GMT
China official held over shooting
Chinese villagers face off with riot police in Taishi, Guangdong province, on 12 September 2005
Protests in rural China are on the increase
The authorities in China have arrested a police commander who ordered officers to open fire during a disturbance, killing protesters, media reports say.

The arrest comes after officials broke several days' silence to say that three villagers were shot dead in the protest, in Guangdong province.

Local residents have alleged that up to 20 people were killed.

If this is true, this could be China's deadliest use of force against protesters since Tiananmen Square.

A special investigation into the incident has been launched.

Protests against corruption, pollution and land seizures have become increasingly common in rural China.

'Chaotic mob'

Police in riot gear were seen patrolling the village on Sunday, and residents said they feared arrest.

Officials quoted by the state news agency said more than 300 people took part in Tuesday's protest in the village of Dongzhou.

At the urging of a few "instigators", the demonstrators reportedly attacked the police with petrol bombs, knives and dynamite.

"It became dark when the chaotic mob began to throw explosives at the police," the report said. "Police were forced to open fire in alarm."

Three people died instantly in the police firing and five others were wounded, according to Xinhua.

But villagers say only fireworks, not explosives, were thrown at police.

Beijing's memories of international condemnation after the 1989 killings in Tiananmen Square still loom large, and it is extremely unusual for Chinese police to use live fire to suppress a demonstration, the BBC's Louisa Lim in China says.

Anger over land

Witnesses at the time told US broadcaster Radio Free Asia the incident happened after hundreds of police tried to disperse up to 1,000 demonstrators near Shanwei.

Protesters were apparently angry because they had not been compensated for land taken by the government to build a power plant.

The village has since been sealed off by security personnel.

One of the most prominent rural demonstrations, earlier this year, took place in the village of Taishi, also in Guangdong province.

Villagers accused Taishi's chief of embezzling public funds in a deal involving the sale of a large tract of village land.

The stand-off between locals and security forces lasted several weeks.


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