11/07/2005, 00.00
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1,000 former PLA troops march through Shenzhen

The march organized to appeal for the release of two fellow workers held during previous protests over wages.

Shenzhen (AsiaNews) - Nearly 1,000 former PLA soldiers last night marched through the streets of Shenzhen to appeal for the release of two fellow workers held during previous protests over wages. Yang Sibao and his wife were held during a protest on Friday for allegedly violating petition regulations.

The workers were originally members of the People's Liberation Army's engineer corp deployed to the south in the early 1980s. Because of their engineering expertise, they were recruited into the drive to construct the Shenzhen Economic Zone in the early years of its establishment. Responsibility for their payroll was transferred to a state-owned construction company.

Apart from complaining about poor wages, the soldiers also suspected their employer was withholding part of their wages that were promised to them in the restructuring of the state-owned enterprise.

According to a witness, the march started late yesterday evening, with the former soldiers marching along Shennan Road towards Deng Xiaoping Square. The crowd chanted slogans for the release of Yang Sibao and his wife. By midnight, the protesters were heading west in the direction of Zhekou. There were no reports of scuffles and the crowd was reported to be proceeding peacefully.

In the middle of August Beijing has issued a circular which bans military personnel from signing petitions or from taking part in public demonstrations after a wave of protests held by disgruntled veterans. The circular of the Central Military Commission threatens soldiers who disobey the order with penalties or expulsion from the Communist Party.

The authorities are concerned about the dissent among armed forces veterans because the Communist Party has always relied on the PLA to maintain its five-decade-old monopoly on power. The demonstrations were all the more unnerving for Beijing which sent PLA troops backed by tanks to crush student-led pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing's Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. The PLA also played a crucial role in ending the Cultural Revolution and removing the Gang of Four from power in 1976.

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