Chinese authorities have stepped up a crackdown in the southern province of Guangdong, detaining several hundred protesters following three days of bloody riots triggered by a dispute involving migrant workers.
Some 2,700 security troops in riot gear backed by armored vehicles could be seen firing tear gas at thousands of rioters on the streets of Xintang township in Zengcheng prefecture, residents said Monday. Gunfire could be heard in video clips posted online by local netizens.
The unrest in Xintang—approximately 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of the provincial capital of Guangzhou—has touched off tensions between migrant workers and local authorities in the heart of China's manufacturing industry.
Residents said more than 100 protesters had been wounded and several hundreds detained since the violence began on Friday.
“After 8:00 p.m., people cannot go out because all the roads are blocked,” said one resident, who asked to remain anonymous.
An employee from a local hotel recommended that people in the area avoid the town altogether until the rioting had subsided.
“I suggest people would be better off staying home for several days due to the current situation in Xintang,” he said.
When contacted by Radio Free Asia, a duty officer at the Public Security Bureau in Zengcheng prefecture refused to answer questions about the riots or the number of troops in the area.
“No, I don’t know. I don’t know,” the woman said.
The violent unrest comes amidst growing hostilities between migrant workers and local authorities in Guangdong. The province—long an economic engine of China—attracts people from around the country seeking jobs.
Migrant workers in the cities of Guangdong and other parts of the country often face discrimination and lack the same legal rights and social security afforded urban dwellers.
The Xintang incident began with a dispute between security guards and a migrant couple, including a pregnant woman, who had set up a stall by the entrance of a supermarket.
According to information posted by netizens online, the 20-year-old woman surnamed Wang, and her 28-year-old husband surnamed Tang, were running the stall when a security guard told them to leave and hand over their earnings.
A tussle ensued and the pregnant woman was pushed to the ground, angering onlookers who tried to prevent the security guards from taking the couple away.
The clash attracted a larger crowd as security forces backed by armored vehicles intervened, with some reports saying several thousand people joined the riots.
Rioters threw bricks and plastic water bottles at the security forces, who used tear gas to disperse the crowd.
Video of the clash scene posted online showed overturned motorcycles and police cars in the streets of Xintang, home to many migrant workers in textile factories.
Authorities said over the weekend that they had detained 25 people for investigations into the incident, adding to concerns among migrant workers who claim they are frequently harassed by enforcement and security personnel.
According to reports, the protesters on Monday were demanding the release of their detained fellow workers, as well punishment for the security guard who pushed the Wang to the ground.
Third class citizens
A netizen who identified himself as “tuizong” said authorities had dealt ineffectively with the underlying issues behind the violence.
“As far as the police and army are concerned, they may crush the current rioting, but the fundamental problems will not have been addressed,” he wrote in an online posting.
Tuizong said that as China’s income gap has grown, many people are forced to live in remote cities year-round to make ends meet as migrant workers.
“But they suffer discrimination and maltreatment from everyone around them: their bosses, landlords, and even local residents. They are treated as second or third class citizens,” he wrote.
“The ‘iron fist’ policy is not the way to deal with them,” he said, referring to the decision to send troops to disperse the protesters. “You can quell the riot in Xintang, but it will just happen somewhere else.”
Reported by Xin Yu for RFA’s Mandarin service. Translated by Ping Chen. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.