BEIJING: A protest leader in Wukan, the southern Chinese village that drove out the authorities in a row over land grabs, has been appointed its new Communist Party secretary.
Residents applauded Lin Zuluan's new role as another positive step in their struggle with local officials.
Unrest prompted by the seizure of farmland and accusations of electoral fraud by village heads escalated in December after Xue Jinbo, who had been negotiating with authorities, died in custody.
Provincial leaders stepped in and offered concessions 10 days after police and party officials fled the village in Guangdong province. Residents welcomed the intervention but remained concerned that they could still face retribution and the pledges would not be delivered fully.
They cheered the appointment of 67-year-old Mr Lin, announced at a meeting of party members on Sunday, as a good sign. He will also lead the team arranging another vote to elect a new village committee. Provincial investigators declared the last race invalid.
''It is a good thing indeed. Most villagers are very happy about this,'' resident Yang Shimao said. ''Lin Zuluan was the actual leader of our previous rights protection movement. With this new position he will consider our village's interests and our people's interests.
''We didn't expect the authorities to agree to us choosing Mr Lin. After all, we are rebels. This is the first ever case where a man on the government's wanted list has become the party secretary of a village.''
But Mr Yang warned Mr Lin would probably face ''slander from vested interest groups''. ''Our village will still face difficulties in the future since vested interest groups will definitely find all kinds of ways to obstruct,'' Mr Yang said.
A villager told the state-run English-language daily Global Times he hoped the new party committee would bring a satisfactory conclusion to the investigation into the land seizures.
Last week, Singapore's The Straits Times reported a villager killed himself after repeated phone calls from local authorities telling him to turn himself in for involvement in the protests. One relative said every household had received repeated calls.
State news agency Xinhua has reported the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, stressed the need for farmers' land rights to be protected in an article for the Communist Party journal Seeking Truth. Land seizures are one of the biggest sources of unrest in China.
Guardian News & Media; Telegraph, London