Clash Over Transport Fees Turns Deadly in Chinese Village

A student was killed and at least 60 people were injured in central China when villagers armed with bricks and rocks clashed with baton-wielding police over rising transportation fees, a witness and news reports said Tuesday.

Residents in Zhushan, a village in Hunan province, began gathering around a government building on Friday to protest an increase in the cost of public transportation, said Zhang Zilin, a local human rights activist.

The crowd swelled to about 20,000 by Monday and the demonstration turned violent when local authorities dispatched police, who started attacking people, said Zhang, who rushed to the scene after a resident telephoned him.

It was the latest in series of bloody confrontations between authorities and citizens, most over corruption, the widening gap between rich and poor, and official attempts to seize land.

The protesters in Zhushan were "very, very angry and were shouting 'Beat the government dogs to death,"' Zhang, 22, said in a phone interview. They were throwing rocks and bricks at the officers and set fire to five police cars, he said.

At least 1,500 paramilitary police and riot police wearing helmets and carrying batons yelled back "Beat them to death," Zhang said.

"They beat everyone including old people, children, women and people who were just passing by," he said. At least 60 people were injured, Zhang said.

He said the clash lasted about five hours, starting midday, and villagers surrounded the government offices until 8 p.m. local time before dispersing.

A man who answered the telephone at the police station at Yongzhou, which oversees Zhushan village, first said he was "unclear" about the situation and then dismissed it as "rumors." Telephones were not answered at the Yongzhou government offices.

Zhang said he did not have any details about the student who died, but Hong Kong's South China Morning Post newspaper said the boy was hospitalized on Sunday and died Monday.

Hong Kong broadcaster TVB quoted Qing Zhao, a teacher at a local school, as saying four students were injured in the protest and he was told one of the boys later died.

Both the newspaper and television station said the cost of public bus travel had approximately doubled since the Lunar New Year in February.

On Tuesday, road blocks were set up to seal the area and police put up notices asking people who participated in the demonstration to turn themselves in, Zhang said.

The incident came as China's legislature was convening for its annual meeting. The ruling Communist Party has in recent years focused its efforts to develop the poverty-stricken countryside and improve the lives of its 800 million rural residents.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao mentioned rural education and health care subsidies in his opening speech last week, while the party has set aside billions of yuan (dollars, euros) in new farm subsidies.