Township Wakes to 'Chaos'

Chinese migrant workers riot in the southern province of Guangdong.
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Advertisement boards on the side of the road smashed in rioting by migrant workers in Shaxi, Guangdong province, June 27, 2012.
Advertisement boards on the side of the road smashed in rioting by migrant workers in Shaxi, Guangdong province, June 27, 2012.
Courtesy of a Shaxi resident

Residents of Shaxi township in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong woke on Wednesday to find that two nights of rioting by migrant workers had left many businesses smashed or shuttered, cars overturned, and the streets lined with police and soldiers.

"When I came to work this morning, the main doors were broken and everything inside had been smashed up, with some of the goods stolen," said an employee at a supermarket in Shaxi township near Guangdong's Zhongshan city, where the riots began on Monday evening.

A shop owner on the same street surnamed Zhuo said the damage had been caused by rioting migrant workers, who had destroyed everything along their route.

"There were so many people out last night when I went to take a look," he said.

"They were going around in gangs, surrounding cars, shouting at the tops of their voices, and kicking vehicles, so that the drivers ran away."

"They broke everything in their path on their way toward the bus station," Zhuo said. "They also tipped vehicles over."

He said all of the businesses near the township government offices were closed on Wednesday.

Extensive damage

An employee who answered the phone at a nearby hotel said that she had seen extensive damage on the streets on Tuesday evening, and that the streets were full of security personnel on Wednesday morning.

"They were smashing cars, and they also smashed up the bus station," she said. "I saw [the troops] this morning, marching along the main streets."

"It's pretty terrifying," she added.

Calls to the Shaxi township government went unanswered during office hours on Wednesday.

The riots were sparked by the beating of a local elementary school student by a teenager from Chongqing, and anger over the response of local security officials, who injured the boy, according to statements on the local government website.

Around 30 friends and family members of the teenager came to the village committee office, and later the crowd grew to over 300, some of whom threw rocks at the office windows, the official statements said.

"Two Sichuan people got hold of a local person around the neck and were beating him," said one woman whose friend had witnessed the attack.

"They nearly killed him ... his neck was black and blue."

She denied that local people had mistreated Sichuan migrant workers.

"It's not about who was picking on whom," she said. "Local people did it too, not just people from elsewhere [in China]."

Thousands gather

A report on the site said that thousands of Sichuan migrant workers had arrived in Shaxi on Tuesday, escalating the situation.

A police officer who answered the phone at the Shaxi township police department said the township was quiet on Wednesday, however.

"We are just fine over here," the officer said. "It's not as bad as all those online rumors make it out to be."

He denied reports that migrant workers had arrived in town from elsewhere in Guangdong, and said no one had died in the clashes.

"No, not one person [died]," he said, blaming "rumors" for escalating the situation.

Area under lockdown

However, a local resident said the whole area was still under a security lockdown on Wednesday, and repeated online reports that some deaths had occurred during the violence.

"Everything has been shut down by the government," the resident said. "They killed a lot of people."

"They sent a lot of police and soldiers, and a lot of cars were smashed."

A second resident said the unrest had continued until late on Tuesday.

"Today, there isn't anything going on in our immediate vicinity," the woman said. "It stopped in the middle of last night."

"Things are normal near where we are, and you can drive around," she said.

She said she had heard reports that five people had died and around 100 people had been injured in the clashes.

An employee at a local supermarket said local people needed more accurate information, however.

"The citizen security teams have told us to stay indoors if at all possible, for our own safety," she said. "Everyone is saying a different thing, and telling the next person, so the story isn't the same when it has been passed on."

"The government should come out and give the people an explanation of what is really going on," she said. "People are still really frightened ... and they should at least give people some reassurance."

"We are migrant workers, too, and we also fear situations like this."

Guangzhou-based rights lawyer Tang Jingling said the riots were similar to those by migrant workers in Guangdong's Chaozhou and Xintang cities, however.

"Based on my 20 years in Guangzhou, regional discrimination definitely does play a role," he said. "There is a huge difference between the social privileges that come with a local registration and one from elsewhere in China."

Reported by Lin Jing and Ho Shan for RFA's Cantonese service, and by Fang Yuan for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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