China's premier promises more protections for farmers - 14 March, 2006 - News

Premier Wen Jiabao vowed Tuesday to crack down on seizures of farmland for redevelopment, a source of rising rural anger, as China's parliament endorsed a five-year plan to close the growing and volatile gap between rich and poor.

But he stopped short of saying whether the communist government might allow farmers greater legal rights over their land in a system where all land is state-owned.

Chinese leaders are trying to defuse increasingly violent rural protests over complaints that local officials are seizing land to build shopping malls, factories and other projects and are failing to pay adequate compensation.

"We must exercise and enforce the strictest land protection system," Wen said at news conference on the closing day of ceremonial parliament's 10-day annual session.

Clashes between unhappy farmers and authorities are becoming bloodier and more frequent. According to government figures, the number of cases of public disorder jumped by 6.6 percent last year to 87,000.

The deadliest reported incident occurred in December, when at least three villagers in the southern province of Guangdong were killed when police opened fire on demonstrators protesting inadequate compensation from land seized for a power plant.

The premier said proceeds from land transfers should go to farmers and he promised to "mete out harsh punishment" to officials who violate the law in seizing farmland.

But the premier didn't announce any new initiatives. And he failed to answer a reporter's question about whether the government planned to give farmers increased land rights.

Chinese farmers have not been able to own land since the 1950s, reports the AP.