Authorities in the Chinese capital have moved to suppress a protest movement by stallholders at one of Beijing's biggest clothing wholesale markets targeted for closure in a city-wide "upgrade," local sources told RFA.
Around 1,000 law enforcement personnel and "stability maintenance" officials are now stationed at the Century Tianle clothing wholesale market in the city's Xicheng district, traders said.
"There are more than 1,000 police and stability maintenance people here right now," a trader surnamed Bo said. "They are here to put pressure on us stallholders, who put in an application for a demonstration that hasn't been approved yet."
Vendors at the Century Tianle clothing wholesale market took to the social media app WeChat to voice their protests at the forthcoming closure of the facility, which houses more than 2,200 small businesses.
They have also applied for permission to stage a demonstration.
But the groups they set up were shuttered by official censors, and their moderators and active participants were warned off speaking out by police, Bo said.
"There were more than a dozen group chats at Century Tianle, but they have been warned not to speak rashly," she said. "Some of the more active posters have been warned off."
Repeated calls to the Guanghui Dongfang Group, which operates the market, rang unanswered during office hours on Monday.
A stallholder who gave only a surname Cui said the municipal government's plan to demolish and "upgrade" Beijing's hugely popular wholesale markets is linked to its attempts to curb inward migration from elsewhere in China.
"They have offered compensation of 60,000 yuan to every stallholder who agrees to relinquish their license," Cui said. "This has to do with Beijing's policy of cutting the city's population."
"They want to force low-end industries to relocate out of Beijing."
Bo agreed, saying that the decision appears to be out of the hands of Guanghui Dongfang.
"We spoke to them, and they said it's the government's doing, but the government said it's the owner's decision, so they are just passing the buck," she said.
"A lot of the traders have sunk their whole lives and their family's wealth into this place," she said. "Some of them have inventory worth millions, if not tens of millions."
Earlier this month, clashes between angry traders and police left more than a dozen people dead, while more than 20 were detained by the authorities.
The traders have yet to receive any reply or acknowledgement of their application for a public demonstration, they said.
Other market closed
Beijing on Saturday shut down two branches of the massive Tianyi wholesale and retail market after nearly 25 years of operation, official media reported.
More than 3,000 vendors had operated from the facility, offering 130,000 products at bargain-bucket prices.
The official Xinhua news agency quoted Xicheng district officials as saying the government now wants to attract "high-end businesses, including tech and financial firms," to fill the building.
"Over the past few years, authorities in Beijing have closed wholesale markets and small polluting firms in a bid to upgrade economy, control the population and reduce pollution," the agency said.
The municipal government has dismantled 25 markets, closed another 41, and shut down or relocated more than 3,100 low-end businesses this year, it said.
Tianyi Market has signed a contract cancellation agreement with the vendors and compensated them with four times the amount they initially paid in a guarantee deposit of 100,000 yuan (U.S.$15,200).
Vendors were "persuaded" to accept the deal after being unhappy about it at first, because they "didn't understand the situation," the report said.
'Safety, security threat'
Meanwhile, officials in Beijing said they have been given orders to ensure that anyone doing unregistered business in the capital from elsewhere in China leaves town ahead of an important five-yearly meeting of the ruling Chinese Communist Party next month.
"We have received a document about legal business practices, which says that regular workers are fine, but that we have to sort out the situation with regard to those who have no license of any kind," an official who answered the phone at a Communist Party neighborhood committee office in Beijing's Dahongmen district.
"These kinds of businesses represent a threat to safety and security and so forth," she said. "Nobody is saying that all migrant workers have to leave."
Reported by Xin Lin and Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.