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January 30, 2010

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Draft law puts restraint in relocation

REACTING to controversial evictions in which homeowners physically resisted demolition crews, sometimes to tragic result, China's lawmakers have drafted new demolition laws that would prohibit authorities from cutting off water and electricity and acting with violence.

The draft law requires local governments to give homeowners the chance to voice their opinions on eviction cases. It also would ensure evictees' rights to compensation, and prevent demolition from occurring before agreed compensation is paid.

The draft stresses that no violence, coercion, or other illegal means, such as cutting off the water or power supply of the houses, can be employed in demolition procedures.

The compensation should at least enable the evicted homeowner to buy a similar house on the market.

Demolition for revamping old apartment buildings is only allowed with the approval of over 90 percent of the house owners, the draft says.

The State Council, or the Cabinet, has put the full text online to solicit comment and suggestions. The public is invited to comment on the draft any time before February 12 via online postings, e-mail or letters.

The current regulation gives local governments the right to take back any private property if the land was needed for projects in the "public welfare." But that is too vague a phrase, and has been interpreted at authorities' will, said a lawyer quoted by the China Youth Daily.

The lawyer said many demolitions carried out in the name of public welfare were actually for commercial projects, and thus sparked furor among householders.

"This is definitely a big step forward," Professor Wang Xixin from Peking University Law School, one of the news regulation's drafters, told Xinhua news agency.

On December 7 last year, five professors from Peking University, including Wang, claimed in an open letter that the current demolition regulation was unconstitutional and violated the Property Rights Law.

The existing regulation took effect in 2001, granting the forced demolition.

One of its major problems was that it focused solely on the "demolition" and "administration," Wang said.

He said the new draft regulation, which used "expropriation" instead of "demolition" in its title, showcased a shift of the government's emphasis, and its respect for and protection of the citizens' personal property.

Expropriation of houses has become a hot topic in China, where booming urban development made relocation of households a common phenomenon. Forced demolition frequently led to confrontations.

The anger of property owners bubbled over last November when a 47-year-old woman, Tang Fuzhen, died after she set herself on fire to protest the forced demolition of her house in Sichuan Province.

In June 2008, Pan Rong and her husband stood on the roof of their house in Shanghai and threw a Molotov cocktail to the approaching bulldozer.

And last month, Xi Xinzhu in Beijing burnt 10 percent of his skin with gasoline while a demolition crew was breaking into his house.


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