Beijing Police Turn Back Hundreds of Heilongjiang Protesters


2004-07-19
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HONG KONG — ; More than 400 former mining workers from China's northeast who set out for the capital to protest the detention of 23 of their representatives after a mass suicide bid were turned away from the capital by hundreds of police officers, RFA's Mandarin service reports.

The group had originally let it be known that it was traveling to the capital by train in support of the 23 petitioners who climbed a building outside China's Supreme Court building last week in protest at their failure to get their grievances heard.

Instead the group set out for Beijing in a convoy of vehicles, and were turned back as they approached the capital Saturday.

"They got as far as Sanhe in Hebei province, but someone must have known they were coming," a source close to the petitioners said. "They turned them around and brought them right back, the whole convoy of 28 vehicles."

She said the petitioners had tried to make phone calls to let the outside world know what had happened, but they were unable to dial out. "They tried to call out on their mobiles but they had had their signals stopped by some device,� she said.

An official at the Hegang City Mining Bureau, the petitioners' former employer, confirmed that large numbers of workers had been laid off but said he had no further information.

The original group of 23 suicide bid protesters were still being held at the Fengtai District detention city in the south of Beijing, sources told RFA.

But local police officials declined to confirm the report. "I don't know about this," a man on duty at the Fengtai police station said.

The 23 petitioners climbed to the top of a building 20 meters high last Monday and threatened to jump, triggering a five-hour standoff with police and emergency services in front of thousands of other petitioners and bystanders.

They were eventually detained for causing a disturbance, eyewitnesses and fellow petitioners told RFA.

An official at the Hegang City Mining Bureau said the trouble had begun following a wave of redundancies at the bureau, for which the government had earmarked around U.S.$10,000 in payments.

But only a quarter of the money ever found its way into petioners' pockets, with mining bureau leaders suspected of having made unauthorized use of the funds.

The Chinese authorities continue to persecute the growing number of petitioners across the country. Police often beat or 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 say they have recorded 2,670 verifiable detentions of petitioners from across China since the beginning of last month.

Petitioners cite a whole range of official abuses, but the most common are forced eviction and non-payment of wages, retirement pensions or compensation packages linked to local government property developments.

Crowds of petitioners are becoming a common sight outside key government buildings in Beijing, as thousands are driven by loss of livelihood, homelessness, and desperation to camp at the gates of those in power. #####

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