02/27/2009, 00.00
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Protesters who set themselves on fire in Beijing are Uyghurs

They had come to present a petition. Today the group "Tiananmen Mothers" asked the government to reveal whether 127 people who disappeared in the massacre on June 4, 1989, are alive or dead. Experts: the government is not resolving the problems, and there are more and more protests, some of them with extreme actions.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The three Chinese who set themselves on fire in a car when the police stopped them in downtown Beijing were Uyghurs. Experts expect numerous protests this year, because the government is preaching social harmony, but is not resolving the problems. The police are responding by patrolling Beijing with helicopters.

It appears that the three, who were members of the same family, had come to the capital to present a petition about a property dispute. The parents are still being treated in the hospital for their burns, but there is no information about their son, who was taken away by the police. The reason behind their action is unknown; it may have been an extreme protest against a situation of injustice.

Next week, the annual session of the National People's Assembly begins, and for the occasion many Chinese go to Beijing to present petitions, asking for justice. Today the group "Tiananmen Mothers" presented a petition to find out what happened to 127 people who disappeared during the massacre on June 4, 1989, when the army brought in tanks and fired on thousands of unarmed demonstrators who were occupying Tiananmen Square and calling for democratic reforms. 20 years later, it is still unknown whether these 127 people are dead or in prison.

The group, which unites the parents of young people who died or disappeared that June 4, is asking the government to verify all of the deaths, compensate families, and punish "those responsible for the killings." According to Human Rights in China, the petition claims that "China has become like an airtight iron chamber and all the demands of the people about June 4, all the anguish, lament and moaning of the victims' relatives and the wounded have been sealed off." The request for official recognition of the killings has long been headed by Ding Zilin,a retired professor whose 17-year-old son died in the square. At the time, China limited itself to describing the demonstrators as "counterrevolutionaries," and still speaks of it as a period of "political tumult," avoiding further comments.

Another protest took place yesterday, when, in front of more than 100 journalists, in front of the press office of the State Council, a man climbed a street sign, shouting "give back my political rights" and displaying a placard (in the photo). Finally, the police forced him down.

This year, there are many anniversaries of questions that are still open, and the police have begun to patrol Beijing with helicopters ahead of next week's session, to better control the situation.

The analyst Zhang Dajun observes that last year, the Beijing Olympics drew Chinese public opinion, but he expects that this year there will be many public protests, because "people's problems have not been solved. When people become desperate, they try extreme measures, like the burning incident in Beijing, to have their voices heard."

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