Chinese Media Downplay Land Protest in Southern China

China's state-owned news agency is downplaying the latest clash between villagers and police in the southern province of Guangdong over land compensation. Analysts say Chinese authorities are struggling to keep a tight lid on the growing number of increasingly violent rural protests.

A four-day protest in Zhongshan City's Sanjiao Township left several police and villagers injured in confrontations over protesters blocking a highway.

The protesters were demanding more compensation for land the government seized to be used for factories.

Villagers accuse the police of using electric batons and beatings to disperse thousands of demonstrators on Saturday. But local officials deny the accusations.

China's official Xinhua News Agency quotes a Zhongshan city government spokesman as blaming protesters for the injuries, saying they threw rocks and fireworks at police, causing "chaos." It also puts the number of protesters at about a hundred.

Local public security officials reached for comment by VOA said they could offer no details about the incident.

Joshua Muldavin is a professor of Asian studies at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. He says such protests clearly have the Communist government worried about the threat from rural discontent.

"It's not a surprise that many of these things are happening and it's not a surprise that the state would be trying to minimize the damage of that as it struggles to deal with 200 of these on any given day," Mr. Muldavin says.

Protests over land compensation are on the rise in China as local governments seek to build their economies by confiscating farmland for industry.

Sharon Hom is the Executive Director of Human Rights in China - based in New York. She says this is contributing to the income gap and people in the countryside are becoming more desperate.

"…On top of being left behind by economic growth and being left behind by this new wealth that is being reported in the mainstream media, then you have the situation where their land is being taken away and they're not getting adequately compensated," Ms. Hom says.

A similar clash in December over land compensation in nearby Dongzhou left at least three protesters dead when police fired on demonstrators. However, villagers there also question official accounts, saying up to 20 people may have been killed.