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Ex-officials from restive Chinese village expelled from Communist Party

By Jethro Mullen, CNN
April 24, 2012 -- Updated 0920 GMT (1720 HKT)
Thousands of residents took to the streets of Wukan in 2011 protesting the seizure of land.
Thousands of residents took to the streets of Wukan in 2011 protesting the seizure of land.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Villagers say the punishments are too lenient and the authorites should do more
  • The provincial government is investigating former officials in Wukan over corruption
  • Local residents drove out village officials during protests last year
  • Several ex-officials have been "punished" by the the authorities

Hong Kong (CNN) -- China's ruling Communist Party has expelled two former top officials from a southern Chinese village where local residents rose up last year to protest corruption and abuses of land rights.

Xue Chang, the former party chief of Wukan, and Chen Shunyi, the former head of the village committee, are facing charges of corruption and election-rigging, the state-run news agency Xinhua said in a report late Monday. Other local officials were also punished, it said.

The provincial authorities have also demanded that Xue and Chen return "illegal gains" worth tens of thousands of dollars, Xinhua reported, citing Zeng Qingrong, deputy head of the supervision department of Guangdong Province.

But some villagers said the punishment did not go far enough and urged the authorities to step up their investigations.

During the last four months of 2011, thousands of residents took to the streets of Wukan, protesting the seizure of their farmland by officials, expelling local Communist Party leaders and clashing with anti-riot police who surrounded the village.

The unrest drew the attention of the international news media, making it a focal point for grassroots discontent in China. Senior provincial officials intervened to negotiate a deal with the villagers.

That agreement allowed the residents to hold elections to choose local representatives earlier this year, and protest leaders were elected to key posts.

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The provincial authorities also began investigating the former village officials and the land seizures.

After three months, the investigators found that former officials were "involved in illegal transfers of land use rights, embezzling collective properties, accepting bribes and rigging village elections," according to Zeng, the Guangdong official.

As well as Xue and Chen, 18 other village, township and municipal officials were also "punished," Xinhua reported. Two of those officials have been passed on to judicial authorities "for suspected law infringements," and a total of 1.06 million renminbi ($168,000) has been confiscated, the report said.

But the announcement failed to satisfy Xue Jianwan, a villager whose father died after being detained by the authorities during the protests last year.

"The official report is not convincing," she said by telephone. "None of us villagers would believe that a party chief would only take so little in so many years in his position."

The authorities have ordered Xue Chang, the former party chief, to return 189,200 renminbi in "illegal gains," and Chen, the former village committee head, to return 86,000 renminbi.

Xue Jianwan said the villagers' main concern was not the punishment of the officials, but reclaiming what had been taken from them.

"We still want to know whether we can have our land back," she said.

The investigation is continuing, the Xinhua report said, adding that Xue Chang and Chen "may also be handed over to the judicial authorities."

Zhang Jianxin, one of the leading organizers of the protests in the village, said that the authorities needed to do more.

"We feel the government is downplaying the problems here," he said. "They were also slow and ineffective."

He agreed with Xue Jianwan that Xue Chang's current punishment was too lenient.

"Meanwhile," he said, "we'll keep fighting for our rights over the land."

CNN's Shao Tian contributed to this report.

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