Chinese villagers who have protested for days over seized land and a suspicious death postponed a march on a government office on Wednesday, while top provincial officials blamed the conflict on pent-up social ills and laid out a compromise offer.
In a sign that the confrontation that has simmered for more than a week in Wukan, in the southern province of Guangdong, may be easing, a village organiser said the march would be put off until at least Thursday, when residents would decide whether the government had offered enough concessions.
"Now, (we) will give them one day to reach a consensus. If not, next day," Lin Zuluan, a village elder, told reporters late on Tuesday, before he held talks with Zhu Mingguo, a senior Guangdong province official.
Although the Wukan rebellion is limited to one village, it has attracted widespread attention as a humbling rebuff to the ruling Communist Party, which values stability above all else.
Wang Yang, the Communist Party chief of Guangdong, obliquely acknowledged that the villagers had cause to complain, in comments published on Wednesday in the Southern Daily, the official province newspaper.
"There was something accidental about the Wukan incident, but also something inevitable," Wang said, according to the report.
"This is the outcome of conflicts that accumulated over a long time in the course of economic and social development," said Wang, who is seen by many analysts as nursing hopes of a spot in China's next central leadership.
Guangdong is a prosperous part of China. But the wrenching shifts of urbanisation and industrialisation have fanned discontent among increasingly assertive citizens, who often blame local officials for corruption and abuses.
Death in Custody
For more than a week, Wukan villagers have driven off officials and police, and held protests in outrage at the death in custody of activist Xue Jinbo, whose family rejects the government's position that he died of natural causes, and against the seizure of farmland for development.
They and fellow villagers believe he was subjected to abuse that left injuries, including welts, on his body. Xue was detained over torrid protests that broke out in September.
On Wednesday, however, about 300 villagers lined the sides of a road into the village, preparing to welcome, Zhu Mingguo, the official negotiating with them.
A man holding a Chinese flag on a pole told the villagers over loudspeaker: "Everyone welcome the Communist Party's work team." Villagers unfurled a banner welcoming officials to come and help "solve the Wukan matter".
"Now that the government is coming, I think we'll get a good result," said a villager surnamed Xue. "The central government has already appealed on our behalf. They know the problem and have sent someone down, they will find a solution for us."
The Southern Daily also explained the concessions that Zhu has offered to the villagers, including foreswearing punishment of rioters who "show sincerity in working with the government to solve the problems".
Zhu also promised an impartial autopsy for the late Xue, and "transparent" disclosure in the media of how the villagers' grievances are addressed.
Underscoring government fears of unrest, in a separate protest on Tuesday in Haimen, a town further east up the coast from Wukan, residents demonstrated in front of government offices and blocked a highway over plans to build a power plant.
Pictures on a Chinese microblogging site, Sina's "Weibo" service, which could not be independently verified by Reuters, showed hundreds of people gathered in front of the offices as riot police kept watch.