12/14/2005, 00.00
CHINA
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Beijing: "Dongzhou no Tiananmen"

But the methods resorted to in Dongzhou are the same as Tiananmen: cover up the incident and suppress the press. A Chinese scholar said: "The population is losing faith in the central government more and more".

Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) – The Chinese government yesterday rejected comparisons between last week's shooting in Dongzhou and the 1989 repression of the pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen square. In a regular weekly briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said the two incidents were not comparable and no conclusion had been reached about the Dongzhou violence.

The declaration comes after a group of activists, intellectuals and foreign journalists drew a comparison between the use of force against residents of the Guangdong village – who were protesting against the seizure of their land and lack of government compensation – and the violent repression of the anti-corruption and pro-democracy movement which happened 16 years ago in the heart of Beijing.

The local government put the number of victims of last Tuesday's "incidents" at three, but village residents the real death toll could be as high as 20, as many are still missing. If this fear is confirmed, this would make the Dongzhou repression the most deadly attack against civilians after Tiananmen, where there were thousands of victims.

The Hong Kong-based Ta Kung Pao, a filo-Chinese daily, yesterday reported that the Guangdong Communist party secretary, Zhang Dejiang, had visited the scene of the violence on Wednesday, 7 December – a day after the shooting – to "give important instructions on the investigation and handling of the incident". The newspaper also identified the officer who gave the order to open fire as Wu Sheng , a vice-director of the Shanwei Public Security Bureau. Guangdong newspapers reported on Sunday that he had been detained by prosecutors for "letting the situation get out of hand".

Xu Youyu, a political theorist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that, in spite of the appeal of the Dongzhou residents, Beijing was likely to adopt the same approach in handling the case as it had 16 years ago. He said: "A denouncement of the local government's handling is not likely, especially in a case like this when there was the use of force. When a crisis involving political sensitivity occurs at the local level, Beijing tends to handle the issue in the traditional manner, namely to cover it up and suppress the media.

"People have long lost their faith in local governments. When bad things happen, they think they're the local governments' fault. And they believe the central government can help them. But now, more and more people have lost their faith in Beijing. This is a serious problem."

The academic believes it is "practically impossible" to resolve the problem, because the government needs to maintain links with local officials. "The local governments have been doing things that embarrass the central government. But they know that even if Beijing is aware of their wrongdoings, that wouldn't do them any harm," he said. "Beijing has to weigh between popular discontent and a possible governance crisis when deciding whether or not to get rid of officials who do not do their work well."

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