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China Tells Courts to Stop Hearing Eviction Cases

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BEIJING - China, where urban demolition has become a major flashpoint for protests, has ordered courts to stop hearing cases brought directly by disgruntled evictees, state media reported on Friday.

Entire neighbourhoods have been torn down in booming cities to make way for office towers and apartments, with what state media have called "barbarian demolitions" sparking petitions and protests.

"People's courts will not hear compensation or resettlement disputes if agreements cannot be reached between demolishers and property owners or occupants," the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily quoted a new Supreme Court judicial interpretation as saying.

The courts would instead refer litigants to "relevant government departments" for arbitration, it said. If the property owners were still unhappy after arbitration, only then could they file a law suit.

But to the advantage of developers, demolitions don't have to halt during litigation if "monetary compensation or relocation has been offered to occupants". There is no minimum for such compensation. The new judicial interpretation took effect on Wednesday.

Parliament amended the constitution in 2004 to protect private property and the draft of China's first real property law, made public to solicit opinion, stresses its inviolability.

But the draft law is also vague on compensation. Ye Guozhu, a Beijing protest organiser and activist against evictions, was sentenced to fours years in prison in December for planning a demonstration.

Popular protests against land seizures are also becoming increasingly common in rural areas as the country's breakneck development encroaches further into the countryside.

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