Farmers' rights to land 'must not be violated': China's Wen

Villagers fill up their ballot papers during an election in Wukan, in China's southern Guangdong province, March 3, 2012.

BEIJING - Farmers' rights to their land "must not be violated", China's premier told parliament on Monday, a day after elections in Wukan village, a symbol of resistance against official land grabs.

Government seizures of land have become a major source of discontent in China, and sparked a major revolt last December in Wukan, where residents said Communist officials had been seizing their land for decades.

In a speech to mark the opening of China's National People's Congress, Premier Wen Jiabao said farmers' rights must be protected.

"Farmers' rights to the land they contract to work on, to the land on which their houses sit, and to proceeds from collective undertakings, are property rights conferred by law, and these rights must not be violated by anyone," he said.

Land grabs cause more than 65 percent of rural China's "mass incidents" - the one-party government's euphemism for large protests - according to official think tank the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

In Wukan, in the southern province of Guangdong, the simmering anger led to bold protests and the overthrow of leaders residents said had run the village like "local emperors", stealing their land for years.

The protest attracted worldwide attention and a rare climb-down by provincial officials, including a pledge that the land seizures would be investigated and elections held.

On Saturday, villagers took part in a contested election for the first time to choose a seven-member committee to represent them.