HONG KONG—Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Anhui have pledged to investigate a traffic accident after hundreds of high school students took to the streets late Monday calling for an inquiry into the death of a classmate who they say was hit by a government car.
Shouting slogans and carrying placards which read, "Protect Justice," "Expose the Inside Story," and "Government, Come Out," the students marched through a busy shopping district in Anhui's Anqing city, calling for a probe into the Sept. 4 tragedy, which killed one teenager and left a second in a coma.
"One person was killed and another seriously injured," said an Anqing resident surnamed Sun, who saw the protest.
"[The accident] happened on the evening of Sept. 4 and then, last night, the students staged a mass protest here," she said. "There was a huge number of people."
An official who answered the phone at the Anqing municipal government offices said that authorities are investigating the accident and the demonstration.
Asked if the driver involved in the accident had been detained, he replied, "Of course he has. This will be handled in accordance with due process."
He said the authorities would also track down a passenger in the car who was reported to have given his driving license to police at the scene of the accident, sparking allegations that the driver had no license at all.
"We are currently investigating," the official said, adding that the driver is an ordinary citizen, rather than a civil servant.
A second resident said the students had chosen the busiest part of the city to make their point.
"The area around Renmin Street is the busiest in Anqing, especially near the intersection, where the traffic is heavy," the resident said.
"They were demonstrating yesterday evening, and then the Anqing deputy mayor came down here."
Little media coverage
An employee in a nearby beauty salon said the area was quickly sealed off by police.
"They starting sealing off the area at around 7 or 8 p.m.," she said. "By the time we finished work at 9 p.m., they wouldn't let us through there."
Official broadcast media made no mention of the accident or the demonstration, residents said.
An employee at the local Anqing Daily News said the paper had carried a brief report of the accident. "This wasn't reported by a journalist," the employee said. "It was a government-approved item, so we don't really know much about the affair."
"The report said one person died and another was seriously injured, and that they were both students from the [Anqing] No. 1 Middle School."
Netizens posting on the Tianya website said the accident took place at 9:40 p.m. local time on Saturday evening, when a jeep bearing government license plates driving along the eastern section of Renmin Street hit an electric bicycle being ridden by two 16-year-old boys.
However, posts referring to the accident, or to the boy who was still in a coma, were deleted Tuesday morning soon after appearing.
The jeep failed to stop even after it had hit the boys, pushing the bike up against nearby traffic barriers, leading to allegations that the driver had taken drugs, netizens said.
An employee who answered the phone at a hotel near where the accident took place said the incident had been ignored by local media.
"They would never broadcast that," said the employee, surnamed Song. "There was nothing about it on the television either."
Student protests rare
Song said she saw several hundred high school students at Monday's demonstration, with many more bystanders at the scene.
A teacher at a high school in Anqing said there were several factors behind the students' anger.
"One is that it was either their classmate or someone the same age as them, so naturally they are concerned," he said.
"Another is that they believe there are certain other factors behind this incident ... other deeper reasons why it happened, and it's hard to say [if they're right]."
China sees thousands of "mass incidents" annually, often linked to protests over land sales, forced evictions, or allegations of official wrongdoing, government figures show.
But protests by high school students, generally under huge academic pressure and more concerned with their social life and their future than with public affairs, are rare.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Qiao Long and in Cantonese by Grace Kei Lai-see. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.