Chinese activists reported further crackdowns on Monday that they said were triggered by calls for "Jasmine" protests at the weekend, as official media highlighted fears of a civil war in North Africa amid a mass evacuation effort in Libya.
Shanghai-based activists said they had come under additional pressure over the weekend, amid calls for a second round of Jasmine protests inspired by popular uprisings in the Middle East.
"I was taken down to the police station," said Shanghai-based petitioner Lu Longzhen, who was detained for more than five hours at the weekend.
"I asked them what they wanted to talk to me about, but they just kept me hanging around," he said. "They didn't give me any lunch," he said.
"The guy threatened me, saying I might get run over on the street and that no one would know."
Among the activists harassed were Xu Zhengqing, Lu Ying, and Zhu Donghui, fellow activists said, while petitioners Shen Yongmei and Wu Yueping could not be contacted by phone, suggesting police interference with their cell phones.
Many of the Shanghai-based petitioners have pursued long-running complaints against local officials, mostly over property deals and forced evictions.
"I was taken by the police the day before yesterday to Qingpu [outside the city]," said Shanghai-based petitioner Ma Yalian. "The police took me away on Saturday morning."
"I am still under detention now. I am being held in Qingpu. It's because of the Jasmine rallies. I have a feeling they'll lock me up for a much longer time this time."
Strong security presence
Chinese authorities responded to calls for more pro-democracy protests for the second Sunday in a row with a strong security presence in major cities.
Reacting to anonymous online appeals for citizens to protest and press the ruling Communist Party for greater openness, hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes policemen turned out in areas designated as protest sites in Beijing and Shanghai.
Meanwhile, the U.S. ambassador to China, who is considering a run for the White House, condemned the harassment and beating of several foreign reporters who went to cover a planned protest gathering against the government.
Reports at the weekend said that one American news videographer was kicked and beaten repeatedly in the face with brooms and taken into police custody, while others were detained briefly.
Others from Hong Kong and Taiwan were also roughed up, reports said.
An employee who answered the phone at the news office of China's cabinet, or State Council, declined to comment on the reports.
"Would you please go onto the official website," the employee said. "Everything for outside release is posted on our official website. It has nothing to do with the work that I do. I am just on duty."
Mak Yin-ting, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Journalists' Association, said the Taiwan government had already complained about the treatment of its journalists to officials in Beijing.
"I call on the Hong Kong government to protect Hong Kong people, and also the right of Chinese people on the mainland to information and a free press by lodging a protest with Beijing about the treatment of Hong Kong journalists," Mak said.
She said public dissatisfaction with the government would only get worse in the face of tight controls on the media.
"This will cause the problems to simmer below the surface and raise the likelihood further of social unrest," Mak said.
Activists, dissidents held
Nanjing-based civil rights lawyer Ni Wenhua said a number of prominent rights activists and dissidents had been held under house arrest or had lost touch with the outside world in recent days, including retired university professor Sun Wenguang.
"Their phone is being tapped," Ni said. "We haven't been able to get through to their home in recent days."
"He was detained and then released," he added.
Activists in Hangzhou, where many supporters of the banned opposition China Democracy Party (CDP) are based, reported similar treatment.
"A lot of our people here have been held or detained," said CDP member Wang Rongqing. "The police spent [Sunday] at my house and they wouldn't let me go out."
"There were probably five or six of us who had [the same treatment]."
Guangdong-based rights activist Chen Qitang said he had been forced to "take a trip" to Changsha with local police, and was only allowed to return home on Monday.
"It's because of the Jasmine revolution. The government [said that] I had to leave Foshan before Feb. 27," Chen said.
"We went all the way to Changsha," he said. "I have only just got back."
Chinese nationals evacuated
China said on Monday it had evacuated nearly 29,000 of its nationals from conflict-torn Libya, in a major military and civilian rescue operation which has dominated official coverage of the uprising against Col. Moammar Gadhafi.
"In the past few days, thousands of Chinese in Libya, mostly employees of Chinese companies with businesses in Libya, have fled to neighboring countries, including Greece, Egypt, and Tunisia, by sea, air, and road," the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing the foreign ministry.
Many of them had fought a rearguard action to stave off local armed raiders before they could be rescued, Xinhua said, focusing its coverage on attempts to evacuate them from the turmoil engulfing the North African state.
Meanwhile, China's three major state-owned oil and gas companies said they had evacuated all their Chinese employees out of Libya.
China on Saturday voted for a U.N. Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on the regime of Moammar Gadhafi, banning arms sales to the country, freezing Libyan assets overseas, and imposing an overseas travel ban on Gadhafi and his family.
Beijing frequently opposes international moves which it sees as "interference in the internal affairs" of another nation, but Chinese media focused on the arms embargo and potential threat of civil war in a country on which it relies for a significant part of its oil supply.
Reported by Xin Yu, Qiao Long, and Fang Yuan for RFA's Mandarin service and by Grace Kei Lai-see for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.