08/10/2005, 00.00
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Thousands ransack government offices and block highway in Hubei province

Unrest is set off in Huangshi after police dogs attack peaceful demonstrators.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Thousands of Daye residents In Huangshi (Hubei province) ransacked government offices, smashed cars and attacked a police station. Eyewitness accounts and media reports say the incidents started after police dogs bit some people during a peaceful protest.

The first incident began on August 4 when about 100 residents of Daye, a county-grade city that is part of the wider Huangshi Municipality (west of Shanghai), petitioned the Huangshi municipal authorities over a plan to change Daye's status to that of a district. Petitioners are concerned that downgrading Daye's status might allow Huangshi to siphon away its funds, an online bulletin board reported.

The change in status would "affect the interests of a small number of people" in the city, a police official said. But many Daye residents were apparently upset by the pending change.

Police ultimately brought out the dogs to end the protest and four petitioners were bitten. Two days later, on August 6, a crowd of about 10,000, angered by the dog attack, converged on the Huangshi Municipal government and party offices, smashing windows and property, and wrecking ten cars.

The Huangshi municipal authorities appealed for calm on a government website, "calling on the entire city to make clear the distinction between right and wrong, keep calm, and not be poisoned and bewitched by a small number of people with ulterior motives". Demonstrations however continued.

Municipal authorities said protesters blocked the Huangshi-Wuhan highway and stopped traffic on a bridge, and warned that the City would "resolutely and severely" punish people.

What is happening in Daye is far from unique. In the last few years, China has seen protests skyrocket over land expropriations and evictions, corruption and abuse of power by the authorities. For many, the growing gap between haves and have-nots explains the rise in unrest.

What is more, in the last ten years, more than 66 million peasants have lost their land as a result of decisions taken by government officials. Tens of thousands have been left homeless.

The Public Security Ministry has acknowledged that in 2004 74,000 demonstrations have taken place.

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