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HARBIN - Police in Northeast China's Heilongjiang province have arrested eight suspects over forced demolition of homes in an old community in Harbin last week.
Among the suspects are three employees from a local demolition firm, an unemployed man who helped rent vehicles, and four drivers who were allegedly hired to tear down at least six homes in the Shidaoli district of Harbin, Li Guang, a police officer with the Harbin Public Security Bureau said Thursday.
Police interrogate an arrested suspect over forced demolition in Harbin, March 21, 2012. [Photo/Xinhua]
Li said police were chasing other suspects following the bulldozing, which has sparked a public outcry after a video of the event was posted on the Internet last week.
A bulldozer drove into the 40-year-old community at around 10:30 pm on March 14, and a gang of more than 20 masked men forced their way into these homes and hauled their occupants out, said Wu Guihua, 57, one of the evicted residents.
"I was watching TV in bed when they broke in and forced me out -- they didn't even allow me to put on my shoes," she said.
Wu remembered being hauled away by two young men, adding, "A third one covered my mouth, trying to prevent me from yelling for help."
Standing in the bitter cold, she said she saw about 20 other men, all masked and holding clubs. "Within minutes, several homes were flattened. Broken windows, tiles, sinks and clothing were everywhere," she recalled.
Her neighbor, Zhang Shengli, was injured in the ribs while trying to fight off the intruders.
One of the suspects, who claimed to be jobless, said he was hired by the demolition company.
"We leveled just a few houses, hoping whoever witnessed the scene would be scared and willingly move out," he told police Wednesday night.
The neighborhood, inhabited by old employees of a former tractor plant in Harbin, had been sold to a development company to be dismantled and turned into a new community with high-rise apartment buildings.
The residents had refused to move out, saying the compensation offered by the development company, about 800 yuan for each square meter of their old homes, was far below the market price.
With the meager pay-out, they would not be able to afford new homes, which sell for about 8,000 yuan per square meter in the same neighborhood.
Since the forced demolition was broadcast online, many people have accused the development company of masterminding the eviction.
The company, however, denied the accusation. "The forced demolition had nothing to do with us and we suspect someone was staging a show to catch public attention," said Liu Guihua, a project manager with Harbin China Youth Development Co.
Liu said the 800 yuan per square meter compensation was in line with standards set by the local government, claiming, "The residents' requests for higher compensation are groundless."
Excessive use of land for urban and property development has proven a thorny issue in many parts of China and has resulted in a spate of problems such as hasty land grabs and forced eviction.
Last year, the central government banned such acts in a circular that told local authorities to stop forcible occupation of land and demolishing of homes against their owners' will.