The protest broke out over a fight between residents and operators of a gasoline filling station that was built on expropriated land. According to the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy in China, June 14 the village chief demanded station managers pay the villagers compensation for the lands ceded by the government after they were expropriated. The station's employees ended the quarrel by beating the some residents and sending them to hospital. Within hours the people of Rishanfen surrounded the gas station and blocked a highway and railway express service to the local airport.
The local government's response was to send hundreds, perhaps thousands of police, who clashed with the residents to clear the streets. They also arrested a dozen people, including the village chief and several others who were filming the incident with their cell phones. On June 15 a more substantial police force arrived because the protest was not over. The police guarded the streets and surrounded the village, checking everyone who wanted to enter or exit.
Local sources suspect that the compensation for expropriated lands was pocketed by the former village chief of Rishanfen, who is now secretary of the local Communist Party, a position of great importance. The authorities deny everything: Xu Guanbao, secretary of the Rishanfen Communist Party, speaking to Radio Free Asia denied any "incident", and moreover refused to give any further explanation.
It is at least the third major protest to emerge this week in China. In Lichuan (Hubei), the crowd took to the streets to protest the suspicious death of a local leader who defended the interests of the population, while he was detained by police. In Xintang (pictured), in the industrial Guangdong, a trivial dispute sparked days of street fighting between police and thousands of immigrants, frustrated by their poor social situation.
Experts explain that there were over 180 thousand mass protests in China in 2010, mainly for economic reasons such as widespread corruption, expropriation of land and the escalating food prices. The population, has no "legal" way to defend their rights, including economic, and are increasingly ready to take to the streets to demand justice and social security. Many analysts believe that this will force the authorities to democratic reforms, but in February repression and police control were stepped up, for fear that the protests could spark a Jasmine Revolution.