In 2005, incidents of social unrest hit 87,000

Data have been announced by the Ministry of Public Security. Figures show an increase of 6.6 per cent during the last year.

Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) - The number of disturbances to public order on the mainland rose 6.6 per cent last year to 87,000, the Ministry of Public Security announced yesterday.

Ministry spokesman Wu Heping said that compared with 2004, there had been an 18.9 per cent rise in crimes that interfered in government business and a 13 per cent rise in mass gatherings that disturbed social order. Cases of "provocation and stirring up trouble" were up 11.8 per cent.

He did not give a figure for the number of incidents of "mass gatherings to attack governmental organs", a crime that attracts some of the most serious penalties. Just this week, 11 people were sentenced to up to four years in prison for attacking a provincial petition office in Yanan, Shaanxi .

Social unrest has increased across the mainland in recent years. Last year, Public Security Minister Zhou Yongkang said the number of "mass incidents" such as protests, riots and mass petitioning had risen 28 per cent in 2004 to 74,000, compared with 58,000 a year earlier and 10,000 a decade before.

Disgruntled villagers dissatisfied with compensation for land requisitions, migrant workers petitioning for back pay, and laid-off workers at state-owned companies demanding welfare payments have contributed to social unrest. Hu Xingdou , from the Beijing Institute of Technology, said there was a lot of social conflict because the country was going through a transformation.

"If governments cannot appropriately handle the conflicts, they may lead to bigger social unrest," Professor Hu said. "Officials should not crack down on people's reasonable demands. They need to respect and listen to the people." But he also said: "Every citizen should obey the law and pursue their rights through lawful ways."

Four villagers were sentenced this month to up to five years in jail for taking part in a riot in April in protest against pollution in the Zhejiang village of Huaxi. In that disturbance, about 1,500 police officers and government officials confronted up to 30,000 villagers angered by the appropriation of their land for factories.

The most recent case occurred last week, when dozens of villagers were injured and a 15-year-old girl killed in days of clashes with police over a land dispute in Zhongshan , Guangdong.

The clashes began when nearly 400 staged a sit-down protest on a highway connecting Guangdong with Beijing to advance their decade-long battle to obtain reasonable compensation for land taken by local governments.