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Beijing 'Petitioners' Village' Faces Demolition

A slum area in the Chinese capital that has become a sanctuary to thousands of aggrieved Chinese villagers faces demolition. As VOA's Heda Bayron reports from Beijing, human rights activists say the demolition appears to be timed to rid the capital of so-called petitioners ahead of the Chinese Communist Party congress next month.

Beijing's municipal government has posted removal notices on the walls of run-down single-story houses in Beijing's Fengtai district.

All residents are told to vacate the area by September 19, after which the government will tear down the houses to make way for a new road.

Demolitions have become widespread in the Chinese capital as demand for land for new developments increases in the run up to next year's Olympic games.

But human rights activists say the demolition of the "petitioner's village" at Fengtai, would leave thousands of poor and desperate Chinese without shelter.

Campaigner Phelim Kine of Human Rights Watch says this demolition project strikes China's most vulnerable and marginalized people.

"These petitioners are about to be evicted from places where they are forced to stay, to live while they are in Beijing waiting for redress," said Kine. "It's adding very serious insult to already quite grievous injuries that these people have already suffered."

Thousands of Chinese villagers travel long distances to seek redress from higher authorities in Beijing for injustices, including abuses committed by corrupt local officials. Many of them end up staying in cheap accommodations in Fengtai, which is close to bus and train stations, and the central government's appeals office.

One woman from Shanxi province says she came to Beijing to appeal for compensation for a car accident. She says that even though the court in Shanxi had mandated compensation for her, she never received any money. She says she's a widow and she works temporary jobs to feed her children.

Petitioning has been in practice in China for centuries. But human rights groups say some of the petitioners have been threatened, attacked or detained, at a time when the central government says it is seriously cracking down on corruption and abuses.

Human Rights Watch's Kine says the demolition also appears to be part of a clean up operation in the capital ahead of the 17th Communist Party congress next month. More petitioners are expected to come to Beijing during the gathering, when they hope to get more attention from officials. The Chinese Public Security minister has warned police this week to remain vigilant of destabilizing elements ahead of the event.