Chinese villagers who have protested for days over seized land and a suspicious death are likely to call off a march planned for Thursday, after government officials laid out compromise offers that a village organiser signalled were acceptable.
The likely cancellation of the march added to signs that the confrontation simmering for more than a week in Wukan village, in the southern province of Guangdong, was cooling and protesters might reach a deal with the government.
I guess it will be cancelled, Lin Zuluan, a village elder, said of the planned march, after he held talks with government officials.
I personally can't make the final decision, he told reporters, adding that he would meet with other village representatives to discuss the issues.
The main purpose of petitioning is to pressure the government, Lin said of the planned march. On the whole, (all our requests) have been approved. There's no need to give them more pressure.
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 over the death in custody of activist Xue Jinbo, whose family rejects the government's position that he died of natural causes.
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 against the seizure of farmland for development.
On Wednesday, however, about 300 villagers lined the sides of a road into the village, preparing to welcome, Zhu Mingguo, the main 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 also 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.
The government officials offered to free three men detained over land protests in September, and to re-examine the cause of Xue's death, said Lin, the village organiser.
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.
(Writing and additional reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Ken Wills, Robert Birsel and Alex Richardson)