HONG KONG — ; Thousands of rural residents and others seeking redress for grievances against government officials gathered outside county offices in China's northern port city of Tianjin amid a strong police presence, RFA's Mandarin service reports.
On the same day (July 12) that thousands protested in Beijing amid a mass suicide bid by 23 petitioners from China's northeast , local petitioners began arriving outside the Ji County government offices in the early hours of Monday morning, local residents told RFA.
Mondays are the officially designated "clinic" days for government officials to hear the concerns of local people at county level. "I went at about 8 a.m. They were so many people," a local resident identified by her surname Sun said. "I reckon there must have been several thousand."
"There were police vans too. There were twelve of them parked there. There are always a lot of people but this was the most I've ever seen there," Sun said.
Another petitioner at the scene confirmed there was a large crowd, together with police and county officials.
"There are vans parked all around the Ji County government building," the woman told RFA. "And there are urban patrol police here from Tianjin municipality as well. Their vans have "Tianjin Police" written on the front of them. We saw in Beijing that the anti-riot police have the same thing written on their vans."
Sun said the authorities were cracking down on anyone who had tried to take their complaints to the capital. "I came out at about 12 noon. That was better than last week when I didn't get seen till about 3 p.m," she said.
"Because they put the individual complaints, and those of petitioners who have been to Beijing, right to the back of the line," Sun said, adding that officials would question petitioners to find out whether they had taken their complaints to the capital.
A Ji County official contacted by RFA denied the accounts. "Your sources are giving you incorrect information," an official in the duty room of the Ji County government said. "I didn't see how many people there were yesterday. I didn't see the people there yesterday."
When asked if more than 10 police vans were there, including those from Tianjin, the official replied: "Not likely...We in Ji County can deal with this on our own."
But witnesses in Ji County said the clinic was simply a way of improving the government's image.
"They just say that every Monday is the county official clinic. I just think that's to boost the government's image. They might see you, but they never solve your problems," the second eyewitness said.
The Chinese authorities continue to persecute the growing number of petitioners across the country. Police often beat them, detain them, and even send them to labor camps or bring criminal cases against them in court.
They are frequently followed to Beijing by police from their hometowns, with the collusion of police in the capital.
Long-term petitioners to government departments in the capital have recorded 2,670 verifiable detentions of petitioners from across China since the beginning of last month.
The requisition of land by local governments and their crony development companies is a frequent cause for complaint in China, as local residents are evicted from their homes with little ceremony and scant compensation so local governments can cash in on skyrocketing property values.
Another common complaint is the non-payment of salaries and retirement pensions by local governments, which are perennially short of cash. Police brutality and beatings to death in custody have also triggered social unrest in some areas.