Gansu Locked Down After Riots

Local officials and residents say a curfew has been imposed on Longnan city following two days of violence between police and protesters.
2008-11-21
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A police officer kicks a protestor restrained by two fellow officers in Longnan, Gansu province.
A police officer kicks a protestor restrained by two fellow officers in Longnan, Gansu province.
RFA Volunteer

HONG KONG—Authorities in the northwestern Chinese province of Gansu have imposed a curfew on some districts of Longnan city following two days of violence between security forces and local residents resisting eviction.

"The whole area is under curfew," a local official who declined to be identified said. "Any groups of more than three people will be beaten without mercy."

He said government propaganda cars were moving through the city following rioting Tuesday, warning local residents not to leave their homes, to be careful what they say, and not to gather in groups of more than three, on pain of strict enforcement.

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Police beat an unarmed civilian with truncheons during protests in Longnan, Gansu province. Photo: RFA Volunteer RFA Volunteer
"They were beating everyone they saw out on the streets [Tuesday]," he said. "They were saying in my department today that the police are attacking people. It's horrible. Things have got really serious."

"Nobody can say how many people they've beaten up. We don't know the number," the official, who described himself only as 'a public servant,' said.

"The only source of information is posters put up by people's relatives. There are really a large number. It is terrible. I am a public servant. I went out onto the street to see what was going on and the traffic cops and armed police beat me up too."

No Internet access

He said communications to the city had been cut off, and no traffic was currently moving in or out of Wu Du district.

"We are not allowed out, and we can't talk to anyone," he said. "The Internet has been completely shut down here in Longnan. Nobody can get any information out on the Web."

Nonetheless, video posted online showed groups of police in full riot gear moving in formation through the city streets, with piles of rocks and broken concrete at intersections of near-deserted streets.

Residents were seen sporadically hurling stones at security forces in the distance. Most people hurried past, apparently anxious to get inside.

A labor affairs bureau official said he wasn't able to discuss the topic of the violence. "We have to be careful what we say. They are arresting people," he said.

Thirty people were still detained in the wake of the unrest, which involved 'more than 2,000 people,' according to a report by the official Xinhua news agency.

'Under control'

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Riot police move to confront protestors demanding government intervention in a land dispute in Longnan, Gansu Province. Photo: RFA Volunteer RFA Volunteer
"The situation is now under control in Wu Du but not before protesters burned and smashed local government buildings," the agency quoted Li Xuechun, the city's deputy Party chief, as saying.

Xinhua said 22 vehicles and 110 rooms, including some at the Party discipline inspection committee, the industry and commerce federation and the official trade union, were destroyed in the two-day protest, while the cost of the damage was estimated at more than 5 million yuan (U.S.$731,000).

It said 71 police officers and three journalists from the Gansu Provincial TV Station were injured in the unrest.

A protester from Dongjiang township surnamed Zhou, who surrounded the offices of the municipal Party secretary, said the clashes occurred because "people refused to leave the offices of the municipal Party secretary and were set upon with great violence by the regular police and the armed police who were trying to disperse them."

"The armed police moved first on the farmers, beating them. The farmers reacted in self-defense. Now they are trying to make them out to be unlawful rioters who smashed and burned everything," she said.

"They told the farmers to calm down and to stop causing trouble, that they should use the proper channels if they wished to lodge a complaint about their treatment, that they should not cause chaos."

Compensation dispute

"They told us to select a representative, but we were afraid that any representative we chose would just be arrested. Last time they arrested more than a dozen of our representatives and accused them of spreading rumors. They still haven't released them to this day," Zhou said.

Former Longnan resident and independent political commentator Guo Yongfeng said the most important reason for people's anger could be traced back to long-standing problems with official corruption in the city.

"The fuse-wire was tripped by the attempt by the municipal Party secretary to evict people," Guo said. "The government's excuse was that the Wu Du district was in an earthquake zone, and that people would have to relocate to Cheng county for their own safety."

"This damaged the economic interests of the people. They knew that once the officials had moved their offices, the value of their homes wouldn't go up," he added.

"Even before this, the Wu Du authorities had been demolishing people's homes without compensating them and without even promising to build them new homes. The people waited a very long time."

In a rare concession by a top-level political leader, provincial governor Xu Shousheng sat down with 10 representatives of the protesters, state media said Thursday.

In a show of government concern over stability in a sluggish economy, Minister of Human Resources and Social Security Yin Weimin said on Thursday employment was the top priority for China as slowing exports have led to an increase in jobless workers.

The Gansu protests were sparked by local residents' worries about a government resettlement plan after a May 12 earthquake killed more than 80,000 people, and in Gansu alone left 1.8 million people homeless.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Ding Xiao and in Cantonese by Fung Yat-yiu. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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