03/13/2007, 00.00
CHINA
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Soldiers attack 20 thousand farmers: one dead dozens injured

Villagers from Zhushan, in Hunan, were protesting against the increase in prices for public transport. The peaceful protest was marked by violence after local authorities send armed thugs to intimidate the crowds. The victim was a high school student

Zhushan (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Clashes between the military and farmers, who were protesting against the hike in public transport prices, ended with one person dead and dozens injured in the western province of Hunan. Eyes witness accounts confirm the reports.  

 

About 20 truckloads of armed forces were moved into Zhushan village from other parts of Hunan last night to restore order and back up the more than 1,700 local police called in since Friday – already on the ground.

 

Witnesses said anti-riot police attacked the crowd of 20 thousand with batons and electric prods. Among those injured numbered innocent bus passengers.

 

Witness Zhang Zilin confirmed by telephone “several policemen randomly hit protesters. One protester was dragged down from his bike and beaten violently by policemen. He was lying in blood on the ground and I'm not sure he will survive”.

 

Zhang went on to confirm that “Scores were arrested, including several junior high school students. The local police were yelling, `Don't you dare argue and fight with authorities. You will end up with no way out'”. The dead victim was identified as a junior high school student, but there were no further details. He was rushed to hospital after being beaten by local police on March 11, with one leg broken. He died yesterday afternoon.

 

Protests began last week caused by the increase in public transport ticket costs.  Before the Chinese New Year, explains a local farmer, a ticket cost five Yuan: following the holiday for no apparent reason it had increased to nine. Zhang explained that “farmers cannot affo9rd these prices and so they began a series of peaceful protests to ask for a reduction in costs or at least an explanation. But the manager of Anda brought in four busloads of thugs to intimidate the protesters and apparently the local police were on his side”.

 

Exasperated by the lack of answers, the protesters attacked police and burnt four police cars.  The army went on to use to legitimize their violent response and are defending their actions with claims of “having been provoked”. The authorities also deny there were victims. 

 

Social protests are on the increase across the Chinese territory, despite numerous appeals from the communist leadership, who have asked local authorities to create a “society of harmony.  Liu Jinguo, vice minister for social security touched on the theme last January at a national conference on public order.  According to Party directors the number of “mass incidents” actually decreased last year by 16.5 %, compared to an estimated 87 thousand protests in 2005.

 

And yet data shows that these protests – even if they are decreasing in frequency – are increasingly violent.

 

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