China probes possible embezzlement after hundreds kneel down to meet mayor

Local authorities have opened an investigation into possible embezzlement at a village in East China's Shandong province after hundreds of villagers knelt down before the prefecture government building in a bid to meet the mayor, reported on Wedneday.

A photo collection, titled "two hundred villagers kneel down to see mayor, dozens caught", went viral online on Tuesday afternoon.

The images show petitioners, many of them seniors, kneeling down before Jining prefecture government building, with a dozen of police officers forming a wall between the villagers and the building.

They wanted to meet the mayor in person and report possible embezzlement by the officials in Xigu village, Beisu town, Zoucheng county, Jining prefecture.

The villagers gathered before the government building at around 9 am on Tuesday, asking to meet the mayor. However they only saw several low-ranking officials and policemen who tried to persuade them to leave, quoted residents of the village as saying.

They claimed 34 villagers were taken away by police and eight petitioners have not yet returned as of 7 pm on Wednesday.

Zoucheng county government confirmed the petition through its official micro blog on Wednesday, and said the county government has set up a working team for an on-site investigation in Xigu village, vowing to punish those responsible if the alleged embezzlement was confirmed. The team visited the village as part of the probe Wednesday afternoon.

Two years ago, a local coal mining company which wanted to explore the coal beneath the village offered certain amount of compensation and promised to build resettlement houses for villagers, said the petitioners. But in Nov 2014 each of the affected 596 households were asked to hand over 10,000 yuan ($1,608) to furnish houses with tap water, gas and other utilities. Villagers said they did not get a penny in compensation and found the houses to be substandard. They also complained that a five-story office building was constructed nearby to house the five-or six-member village committee.

Zoucheng county government said in a news release that this is the third time that Xigu villagers have submitted a petition since Dec 22.