Authorities on Saturday evening issued their first report on a lethal explosion of violence in a southern Chinese village in which police opened fire on farmers and fishermen protesting land confiscations.
The violence on Tuesday and Wednesday, in the village of Dongzhou in Guangdong province, 125 miles northeast of Hong Kong, drew wide attention abroad because Chinese police previously had avoided the use of firearms in putting down a wave of riots that have hit farm towns and industrial suburbs over the past two years.
Until Saturday, the government had remained silent and had banned Chinese newspapers and broadcast stations from reporting on the incident, which arose after villagers complained about farmland that was seized to build a wind-powered electricity plant.
The report Saturday, issued by the Information Office of nearby Shanwei city and carried by the official New China News Agency, blamed the confrontation on three village residents it called "instigators" who incited others to throw explosives at police. The report named them as Huang Xijun, Lin Hanru and Huang Xirang and said the other villagers were "forced to stay in protest under the threat reinforced by the instigators."
Shanwei city officials, who have jurisdiction over Dongzhou village, did not refer in their report to villagers' accounts indicating that as many as 20 people were killed during periods of sustained gunfire over several hours on both nights. Instead, Shanwei officials said police "were forced to open fire in alarm" only Tuesday evening and, "In the chaos, three villagers died, eight were injured with three of them fatally injured." It was not clear whether that meant a total of three or six people had died.
"The cause of the deaths is being investigated," the New China News Agency quoted the report as saying.
Villagers, in telephone calls, said that beginning Tuesday afternoon, hundreds of black-clad riot police and members of the People's Armed Police in camouflage fatigues had entered the community, a farming and fishing center 14 miles southeast of Shanwei on the South China Sea. Members of the People's Armed Police, a paramilitary force, carried pistols and automatic rifles, they said.