Arson suspected in fatal tent fire

By Liu Sheng Source:Global Times Published: 2014-3-22 0:53:01

A 62-year-old villager was burnt to death and three others were injured after a 20-square-meter tent they were living in caught fire in Pingdu, Shandong Province at around 1:50 am on Friday, according to the official microblog of the Pingdu government.

The local government said the deceased had previously had a stroke and moved slowly, and the injured people have been sent to hospital for emergency treatment. It explained that the injured villagers were individuals who were protesting against requisition of local land. Police are investigating the case.

However, some local villagers said it was a case of arson, and that the tent caught fire after someone poured gasoline on it.

The four villagers had put up the tent on the road beside farmland to protect an area of nearly 200 mu (13 hectares) from being taken away by property developers, and they were stuck inside the tent when the fire happened, the other villagers said. 

"The government illegally requisitioned our land, and didn't give us requisition money," Du Yongping, sister of one of the injured villagers, told the Global Times. "The land was cordoned off by developers. My brother and the other three lived in the tent to guard our land," Du said.

Of the three injured, two are still in intensive care, while the other one who got out of the tent first suffered minor injuries, said Li Chongjun, brother of Li Chongnan, one of the seriously injured villagers. 

"One mu of land costs 1.32 million yuan of requisition money. The developers had paid the requisition money to the government, but we never received the money," said Du.

Li said he suspected that arsonists had been sent to burn the tent.

This is not the first case of a dispute over land requisition in Pingdu city. Chen Baocheng, a journalist with Caixin media, was arrested last August for allegedly detaining the driver of a land mover during a demolition dispute in Pingdu, Chen's hometown.

Gu Xiaoming, a professor of sociology at Fudan University, said the local government had understated the severity of the incident, which could cause more violence to happen.

"The statement didn't mention arson. It only said the tent had caught fire, and pledged to solve the case as soon as possible. Family members of the injured and the public could easily get angry and question such a simple statement. It is passing the buck," Gu said.

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