Wednesday, October 20, 2004. 11:00pm (AEST)

Riot breaks out in western China

Rioters in the western Chinese region of Chongqing burned police cars and looted government buildings after a quarrel between residents escalated into a riot involving thousands, residents and officials said.

The angry crowds gathered on Monday night during a quarrel between fruit market workers and a delivery boy, after one worker passed himself off as an official and threatened to use his rank to resolve the dispute in his favour, state media said.

That caused bystanders, angry at the attempted abuse of privilege, to become involved in the dispute.

Residents said crowds grew to more than 20,000 after cars and buses passing through the area stopped to watch.

An official news report posted on the Wanzhou government's website said five were detained for burning and overturning police cars and stealing a computer from a local government building.

It did not say what caused the disturbance.

A Wanzhou official said more than 10 had been detained.

"I heard some protesters burned police vehicles and police fired tear gas," said a hotel employee at the Changcheng Chang Hotel in Wanzhou district near the riot scene.

China has seen mounting anger against abuse of privilege as the gap between rich and poor widens, with hundreds of millions of peasants left out of its economic boom.

A case last year in which a woman killed a farmer with her BMW but was let off with a suspended sentence attracted wide attention and the investigation was eventually reopened.

A Wanzhou police officer acknowledged there had been a "security disturbance" on Monday but declined to give details.

Emergency meeting

Local officials were still appealing for calm on Wednesday and the Wanzhou Web site said local government and Communist Party officials had held an emergency meeting at 4:00am on Tuesday to discuss the situation.

"Everyone has a responsibility to preserve stability," said one headline on the Wanzhou site.

Government and party officials pledged at the meeting "to seriously punish the lawbreakers and troublemakers in this mass incident in accordance with the law, and seriously punish any party members who ... participated in it to stir up others to create trouble", the website said.

They also stressed that no officials were involved in the dispute that sparked the protest, only a man who passed himself off as one.

A report in the official People's Daily put the crowd only at "hundreds", but referred to "beatings, robbing and burning" and said those involved would be punished.

Protests have become increasingly common in China, fuelled by corruption and the widening wealth gap, but authorities are keen to quickly quash dissent and preserve stability.


10,000 riot in Wanzhou after porter gets bullied

Thursday, Oct 21, 2004

An estimated 10,000 people joined protests and rioting in the southwestern Chinese city of Wanzhou, after a market official's apparent bullying of a porter sparked anger against the city government, eyewitnesses and local media said yesterday.

Several dozen police officers were injured in the rioting on Monday night, an official from Wanzhou's Baiyan district police station said by telephone.

One paramilitary policeman suffered serious eye injuries, and an officer from the Baiyan station was slightly injured by flying bricks, the official said.

Hundreds of police were called out on Monday, he said, to deal with a mob angered by the apparent bullying of the street porter.

Porter Yu Jikui knocked into Hu Quanzong's wife as he was passing the couple on Monday afternoon, the local Three Gorges Metropolitan News reported.

Hu beat and kicked Yu during the ensuing row, watched by hundreds of onlookers, the newspaper said.

Hu claimed he was a civil servant and could use his money to settle any problems, prompting many people to see him as a government official abusing his power, it said.

A spokesman for the Wanzhou government said Hu was a temporary official at a wholesale fruit market. He said Yu was not badly injured.

Hundreds of protesters marched to the main government building later on Monday, with some entering offices and stealing computers and others setting fire to at least some police vehicles, the newspaper said. It named six people who were arrested for rioting.

Local residents said some shops stayed closed on Tuesday, and that riot police were still guarding the government building yesterday.

Street porters are common in ports along the Yangtze river's Three Gorges, where they are known as "stick men" because they ply the narrow, sloping streets with bamboo poles on which they balance their loads. They are usually uneducated, piecework laborers.

China's Communist Party rulers have introduced a series of measures in recent years to improve relations between officials and ordinary people, especially in poor, inland areas.

The measures are a response to a catalogue of corruption cases that have made party and government officials widely unpopular, and to a growing number of organized or spontaneous anti-government protests.