BEIJING — A 38-year-old woman was killed by a digger while protesting against a construction project in China, state press said Wednesday — the latest fatality linked to the nation’s volatile land disputes.
Li Li was killed in the central province of Henan on Monday in front of numerous officials and security guards who had gathered to protect a canal project from protests by residents, Beijing Youth Daily said.
Officials claimed the death was an accident and that Li, a mother of two, fell down the canal embankment and underneath the earth-mover, the paper said.
Her death comes after a village chief in east China’s Zhejiang province was suspiciously run over and killed by a truck late last month after he had protested for years against a government-backed land grab.
Authorities have insisted the man’s death was a simple road accident.
But that case, and the incident in Henan, have sparked widespread anger from Chinese Internet users. The public cried foul after gruesome footage of Li’s death was shown on local television.
“Kill one person and I’ll take responsibility, kill two and I’ll take responsibility,” a protester on the video broadcast by Henan television quoted a water resource official surnamed Zhang as telling workers before the killing.
“Kill eight to 10 of them and no one will dare obstruct our work.”
Water officials in charge of the project in Zhengyang county denied to Beijing Youth Daily that any such comments had been made before Li’s death.
The video, which has been posted on numerous Chinese Internet sites, shows rows and rows of officials and security personnel, many dressed in military fatigues, looking on as Li is being crushed.
According to local villagers, the canal was being moved to make way for a housing project near a local marketplace.
Land disputes are the most volatile social problem in rural China as forced official property seizures trigger growing unrest, according to the “2011 Blue Book of China’s Society,” by the China Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).
Fights over land accounted for 65 percent of rural “mass conflicts”, which the government fears threaten to undermine the country’s stability and economic development, the CASS Blue Book said.
Since 1990, authorities have seized more than 6.7 million hectares (16.5 million acres) of land from farmers, Beijing News quoted CASS researcher Yu Jianrong as saying.
The disparity between the combined compensation paid to residents and the land’s market value amounted to about two trillion yuan (294 billion dollars), Yu said.