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Shanxi: Gangsters kill four protesters in coal privatisation battle

Friday 30 October 2009

Shanxi: Gangsters kill four protesters in coal privatisation battle

Saturday, 24 October 2009.
Vicious attack against Shanxi province villagers fighting to stop illegal sale


Four people in Shanxi province were killed and 14 were hospitalised when armed gangs in the pay of a local coal boss attacked villagers protesting the illegal sale of a coal mine. The attack took place on 12 October at Baijiamao village in Lin county. Shanxi is China’s biggest coal-producing province and an area known for its nouveau riche coal bosses who flaunt their wealth by driving around in BMWs and other luxury foreign cars. Reports say more than 100 club-wielding gangsters stormed into the coal mine near Baijiamao village in an attempt to drive out villagers who were occupying the site in protest against its sale to a private company against their wishes.

The state-run China Daily (22 October) reported, “The men went after the villagers with broadswords, steel pipes and shovels, while one even drove a truck into a crowd of villagers.” According to this report, Hao Tuzhao was beaten to death at the scene, while three others – Cheng Huhu, Hao Yusheng and Mu Xiaoming – died of their injuries in hospital.

The anti-privatisation protesters were outnumbered and unarmed when the attack took place. They described the attackers as gang members – organised criminals – who arrived in two trucks. “The gangsters were hired by the private owner of the mine, and they numbered more than 100. Villagers at the scene numbered about 30 or 40, but they were unarmed,” a villager who declined to give his name told Radio Free Asia (14 October).

The horrific attack took place after a long running dispute over a coal mine that belongs collectively to Baijiamao village residents. They say a private operator sold the mine to another owner without their authorisation. The case is unfortunately typical of the privatisation process in many parts of China where local ‘communist’ officials collude with private capitalists for financial gain. For six months, the Baijiamao villagers have occupied and blockaded the mine site using a makeshift camp that is rostered around the clock. Villagers accuse the new “owner,” who is unable to operate the site because of their protest, of hiring the gangsters to threaten and assault them.

“The collectively owned mine was slyly sold by some village cadres, without even notifying the villagers. We began a lawsuit last year,” one villager said. “However, the bad guys are all ganged up together. The mine owner is in cahoots with the police.”

The disputed coalmine opened in 1984 as a collectively-owned operation. In 1997, it was leased to Shuangyong Coal Company for a 50 years period. In 2002, Shuangyong sold the mine without the permission of villagers to Sanxing Coal Coke Company.

Outraged and saddened by the 12 October attack, villagers laid three of the corpses out along a major road beside the village, blocking traffic. “Traffic is blocked because the Baijiamao villagers are displaying their dead friends on the road. The villagers don’t want the mine open and have already stopped operations for half a year,” a farmer called Li said.

Hundreds of police were sent to the scene by Lin county officials, where they confronted the protesting villagers, witnesses said. The villagers complained that local media were refusing to report the scandal and that police and authorities had blocked all roads leading to the area. Villagers could not even receive news about their injured comrades due to the police blockade. “The village is sealed off. Several hundred villagers are protesting on the road, and there are even more police at the scene. Cars have not been able to get in or out of the village for two days,” an eyewitness said.

According to Jin Jianfeng, who writes for Beijing-based Democracy and Law, the local authorities have a stake in the mine and are linked to the attack: “All local county officials, such the director and deputy director, as well as police and local court officials are all shareholders in the mining business. They are the culprits of this murderous attack,” he said (Radio Free Asia, 14 October).

Three days before the attack on the Baijiamao encampment, protesters had gone to Taiyuan city, the capital of Shanxi province, to hand over a petition to the provincial high court to adjudicate in the dispute. Rather than help their case, however, police later arrested villager representative Cheng Pingshun, who is also the Baijiamao village chief. It is a common occurrence in China that petitioners are prevented from taking their case to higher levels of the party-state command structure, by lower level officials who use various means including violence, detention, and threats.

The aftermath of this attack has been equally dramatic and illustrates the web of party-state-corporate collusion in China. Shi Jinshan – the former corporate legal representative of Sanxing Coal Coke Company and former owner of the disputed mine – committed suicide after the incident. The man believed to have organised the attack, Li Baomin, the company’s security chief, turned himself in to police on 18 October. So far 24 suspects involved in the attack have been detained. A deputy director of Linxian police bureau, the secretary of Linjiaping town Party committee, the mayor and the town’s police chief have all been suspended from duty, reports China Daily. It has emerged that the deputy director of the Linxian police bureau is the younger brother of Li Baomin, who organised the attack.

China has seen a wave of anti-privatisation struggles in the last year, most notably the big struggles involving tens of thousands of steel workers in Jilin (Tonghua Steel) and Henan (Linzhou Steel Factory), and coal miners who staged a 12-day strike in Hunan. The Chinese ‘communist’ regime does not use the term privatisation, preferring to disguise its ongoing sell-off of public or collectively-owned (as in Baijiamao’s case) companies as a transfer to “civil ownership”. Privatisation – under whatever name – leads to job cuts, increased exploitation of labour, and even more manic profiteering regardless of community interests or the environment.

Chinaworker.info extends its condolences to the bereaved families of Baijiamao and salutes the bravery of the campaigners.

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