06/14/2011, 00.00
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Xintang: police and army occupy city to stop protests

Climate akin to martial law, with police patrolling every street, road blocks, orders for shops and restaurants to close early, people advised not to go out at night. Tens of thousands of migrants are ready to protest on the streets for justice and recognition, tired of constant harassment.

Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The police are now patrolling the streets and putting roadblocks on main thoroughfares of Xintang in the city of Zhengcheng, to end to urban guerrilla warfare that first broke out June 10. But it is a deceptive calm, with tens of thousands of immigrants ready to explode with further protests and violence.

In an atmosphere akin to martial law, shops and restaurants have been ordered to close early. Residents have been "advised" not to go out at night and not to post pictures of the clashes on line. Yesterday, the authorities have summoned the managers of 1,200 companies in the area telling them to "pay close attention to their employees."

It all began with a trivial accident: on the evening of June 10 security guards beat and mistreated Wang Lianmei, a pregnant 20 year old migrant from Sichuan, who with her husband was selling goods in front of a supermarket. Within hours, tens of thousands of migrants, especially from Sichuan, took to the streets, attacking the town hall, breaking the windows and setting fire to police cars. The next day the violence intensified and the migrants not only attacked police and government offices but also private cars and shop windows. According to official figures 25 immigrants have been arrested, but local sources have told Radio Free Asia  that instead hundreds have been arrested. It seems that yesterday the demonstrators demanded the release of detained migrants and the punishment of the security guards who attacked the young immigrant: instead about 2,700 soldiers with armoured vehicles and tear gas arrived, blocking all major roads. In the videos uploaded on the Internet gunshots can be heard.

Today, the Xinhua news agency and other State media reported that "everything is back to normal" in Xintang, minimizing the episodes. But the Hong Kong television showed footage with large groups of immigrants running through the streets of Zengcheng, smashing windows and assaulting government offices, overturning police cars. Police in riot gear firing tear gas are also visible, as well as armoured vehicles used to disperse the crowd and demonstrators being arrested.

Local sources report that migrants are ready to return to the streets, their anger is almost palpable: protesting the continued harassment they are subjected as laborers in big cities, often with no home and no health care or right to school for the children. The denounce a lack of rule of law in China and no protection of their rights, even economic.

Zengcheng is about 40 kilometers from Guangzhou, the capital of rich Guangdong. The fear is that thousands more migrants may come to swell protests. There are about 145 million migrants who have left villages to seek work and a better life in cities. They receive a better pay, but are treated as lower class citizens in cities, harassed by businesses and authorities. Yet in Zhengcheng migrants, especially from Sichuan, count for about half of the 800 thousand inhabitants. Adding to these problems, decades old and never resolved, are the economic worries: in just one year the cost of pork, the staple food for Chinese people, has increased from 18 to 26 yuan per kilogram.

According to experts, there were over 180 thousand mass protests in China in 2010. In recent weeks there have been news reports of incidents of violent protests born from "trivial" episodes. Faced with the widespread corruption of local governments and continual harassment, the population is ready to take to the streets to demand justice and recognition.
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