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China rules on home confiscations under attack

BEIJING: China's rules on forced demolition of homes are under attack after a Beijing man set fire to himself to protest confiscation of his home and as prominent law professors urged reforms, newspapers reported on Dec 17.

With China's feverish real estate market stoking commercial developers' appetite for land, the guidelines allowing local governments to confiscate homes and claim land have drawn protests.

In the latest incident to grab national attention, a man on the outskirts of Beijing doused himself with petrol and set himself on fire on Dec 14, when officials were pressing his family to give up their home, newspapers said.

The man, Xi Xinzhu, suffered burns to 10% of his body, and was being treated in hospital, officials told the official People's Daily.

His protest followed a series of others in a country where land is owned or effectively controlled by the state, and residents can lease usage rights.

Residents facing removal have complained that the amount of compensation offered is far below the real value of their homes, and that officials collude with developers to demand land in the name of public needs, such as roads, and then turn it over to commercial investors, who can reap big profits.

Standoffs can turn violent, pitting residents against police and hired thugs, and protests over home and farmland confiscation are one of the nagging threats to social stability facing the ruling Communist Party.

Last month, a Shanghai woman threw petrol bombs at government forklifts working on an expansion of the Hongqiao airport, and in the southwestern city of Chengdu, a woman set fire to herself in front of police and firefighters.

In another southwest city, Guiyang, 13 residents were recently kidnapped by thugs hired by a local real estate developer, who then demolished their homes, a Chinese newspaper reported.

In a sign that the government may be seeking to ease growing public rancour over home demolition, law-drafting officials on Dec 16 met nine law professors who have called the current home requisition rules illegitimate and urged major reforms.

The current rules, they said, failed to comply with the state constitution, which calls for citizens to receive fair compensation for property taken by the government.

One of the professors, Wang Xixin of Peking University, said after the meeting that any reforms needed to ensure that governments could not illicitly work with developers to undermine residents' interests.

"To avoid this alliance of interests, the key is making a distinction between public interests and commercial development," he told the website of the official People's Daily (www.people.com.cn).

Local governments, eager for revenue, stood in the way of such reforms, said Wang.

"They pay too much attention to urban development and may neglect protecting the property and housing rights of all people," he said.

Gao Fengtao, deputy director of the State Council Legislative Affairs Office, told the China Daily that more time would be needed to put together any changes. -- Reuters
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