China punishes 20 officals after village protests

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Chinese authorities have punished 20 officials and former village leaders after the community in southern China engaged in mass protests over land disputes that drove out local officials.

The official Xinhua News Agency said late Monday that the former Communist Party chief of Wukan village in Guangdong province and the former head of the village committee were expelled from the ruling party and ordered to return nearly $45,000 in what it described as illegal gains.

Six other former village officials and a dozen higher-level officials were also punished, Xinhua said, but did not provide details.

Protests in Wukan last year flared into violence with villagers smashing a police station and cars. After key activists were detained in December, villagers drove out officials and barricaded themselves in for 10 days, holding boisterous rallies.

The protests ended after provincial officials intervened and ceded to some demands.

Xinhua said authorities found that the village's former officials had been involved in illegal transfers of land use rights, embezzling property that was collectively owned, accepting bribes and rigging village elections.

In March, two of the protest leaders were elected to run the village in a much-watched election that reformers hoped would promote democracy as a way to settle many of the myriad disputes besetting China.

Many experts, however, said it's far too soon to say if political leaders will summon the will to replicate Wukan's experience elsewhere.