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Protests in China falling, rural spending to rise
Last Updated(Beijing Time):2007-01-30 17:16
Protests across China's vast countryside fell sharply in 2006, a senior Chinese official said on Tuesday, but Beijing would spend more for farmers this year in continuing efforts to reduce inequality and discontent.

Chen Xiwen, the top government adviser on rural policy, estimated the number of "mass incidents" in both rural and urban areas had fallen to about 23,000 last year from 26,000 in 2005.

He gave no numerical breakdown for the protests, petitions and demonstrations that have rippled across China's vast countryside. Although the numbers of such outbreaks were dropping, Chen said, pent-up discontent remained a danger.

"Overall, the volume of rural mass incidents in 2006 clearly fell compared to 2005," Chen told a news briefing in Beijing.

"Now it's still the case that issues that arose several years ago have not been properly resolved or not resolved to farmers' satisfaction, and so farmers are still unhappy and continue to complain."

Chen is one of the officials steering the government's programme to improve the livelihood of China's 750 million farmers and staunch volatile discontent over unpaid wages, unfair taxes and uncompensated loss of land.

The central government, which increased direct investment in the countryside by 42.2 billion yuan ($5.4 billion) in 2006, plans an even larger increase in 2007, Chen said but gave no precise figure.

China is encouraging businesses such as food and meat processors to set up in the countryside to provide jobs for rural workers, raise incomes and stem a flood of migrants to the cities.

But small businesses have difficulty getting loans from state-run banks, while many farmers lack collateral to borrow, forcing them to turn to informal lending networks that demand high interest rates.

Chen said the main source of farmer discontent remained the loss of land, often for construction projects that can bring big profits for the developers, followed by complaints about village finances and pollution.

Beijing had set in place policies to ensure adequate compensation for farmers whose land was expropriated, Chen said. He acknowledged provinces had often exceeded quotas for developing farmland for other uses, while local governments had transferred farmland to businesses at low prices or even for free.

Chen said the phasing out of an ancient agricultural tax had improved relations between farmers and local officials, who for centuries had been responsible for collecting the revenue.

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