China rail workers clash with farmers over land

Chinese authorities are investigating an incident in which more than 100 rail workers carrying iron bars beat local farmers who were obstructing work on a high-speed train link in a dispute over land compensation.

Railway workers from 17th Bureau Group, a unit of state-owned China Railway Construction Corp., clashed with farmers last month on the outskirts of Beijing near a construction site for the $11 billion high-speed railway from Beijing to Shanghai, local media reported.

Rural discontent over government-sanctioned land grabs is rife in China’s vast countryside, where more than 700 million farmers toil on small plots that are owned by the state.

Railway officials have said increasing troubles acquiring land cheaply is holding back the expansion of China’s rail network.

They complain of farmers seeking compensation directly from rail authorities after local officials appropriate land along rail routes without compensating farmers.

In October, trucks “crammed” with people carrying iron bars drove out from the railway construction site to two villages near Lanfang, outside Beijing, where 19 residents, aged between 16 and 70, were injured in the clashes, Tuesday’s Beijing Times said.

Local residents had obstructed rail work amid a dispute over compensation for the use of their land, an official with the news office of the Lanfang local government told Reuters by telephone.

“The delayed construction led to the delay of the railway workers’ salary,” said the official, who declined to leave his name.

Work started on the 1,300-km high-speed rail link in April this year. The railway, with a designed speed of 350 km/h (220 m. ph.) will reduce the journey between the two cities from over 11 hours to just five.

Land costs far exceeded the budgeted amount in the construction of the high-speed railway between Beijing and Tianjin, which passes near Lanfang and opened in time for the Olympics in August.

China’s central government tweaked its rural land policy last month, formalizing the transfer of land use rights in a move it said would bolster farmers’ incomes and protect their interests.

But analysts said the measures would provide little extra protection for farmers against arbitrary land grabs by companies backed by local officials.

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