11/19/2008, 00.00
CHINA
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Urban warfare in Longnan. Curfew imposed, roads blocked

10,000 people have taken to the streets to defend the rights of a few dozen. The people, sick of the authorities and big business, and without any means for safeguarding their rights, are increasingly turning to protests and are finding solidarity among thousands of other unsatisfied people. The economic crisis and unemployment are making the situation explosive.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The protests continued with an escalation of violence yesterday in Longnan (Gansu), with clashes between 10,000 people and the police, thousands of cars burned, and more than 60 people injured. Today there is an eerie calm in the area, after a curfew was imposed and the main roads and shopping centers were closed. Meanwhile, videos of the clashes are circulating on the internet.

The protests began two days ago, in support of 30 residents of the little town of Dongjiang, who were driven from their homes in 2006 and have been living in temporary shelters since then, asking the government of Longnan to honor its promise to provide them with other homes. More than 2,000 people took to the streets and clashed with police, tearing up two public buildings. The protests continued yesterday, and at night hundreds of police officers remained on patrol to control the thousands still in the street. It is a very poor area, where the earthquake on May 12 left 1.8 million without homes, and reconstruction has been delayed.

The episode, with the crowd coming to the defense of citizens harassed by the authorities, is only one of the many protests over the violation of fundamental civil rights. The population, which has no means of obtaining justice or even the right to protest, is taking to the streets as the last possibility to assert its rights, solidifying the widespread discontent. The police are even intervening to defend the interests of big businesses, which are protected by local officials. Like in Tonggu (Jianxi) on October 24, when thousands protested against a company that was cutting down the woods, and clashed with police, with dozens injured and cars set on fire. Or in Jishou (Hunan), with more than 10,000 who clashed with police to protest the expropriation of land. Or on November 7 in Shenzhen, when hundreds took to the streets because the police had shot and killed a motorcyclist at a checkpoint, as also on July 17 in the county of Boluo (Huizhoum, in Guangdong), also over the death of a motorcyclist. In both cases, there were serious clashes, and police cars were burned or destroyed.

Hu Xingdou, a professor of economics at the Beijing Institute of Technology, observes that "the local government has become the front line of conflict." Discontent has grown together with the economic crisis, inflation, and rising unemployment. For now, Beijing, through public safety minister Meng Jianzhu, has limited itself to telling the police that they "should be fully aware of the challenge brought by the global financial crisis and try their best to maintain social stability."

But other avenues are also being sought: companies in Shandong and Hubei have been told to ask for "official authorization" in order to fire more than 40 people, after 700,000 people have lost their jobs in Shangdong alone in 2008. In Guangdong, thousands of factories have been closed, and at many others salaries have been cut by 25%: often too little to live on.

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