Thousands riot in China, attack police, burn cars

Wed Jun 29, 2005 6:16 AM BST

BEIJING (Reuters) - Thousands of Chinese rioted in a dispute sparked by a lopsided roadside brawl, setting fire to cars, looting a supermarket and wounding six police officers, a local shopkeeper and domestic press said on Wednesday.

The violence in the eastern city of Chizhou was the latest in a series of protests which the Communist Party fears could spin out of control, become a channel for anger over a growing gap between rich and poor and threaten its monopoly on power.

The official Xinhua news agency blamed Sunday's riot in Chizhou in dirt-poor Anhui province on a few criminals who led the "unwitting masses" astray.

A few men set on a teen they had hit with their car, a manager from a nearby supermarket, surnamed Wu, told Reuters by telephone.

The men were taken to a police station and a crowd that had been watching the fight swarmed around the building, Wu said, demanding that the men be handed over to them as their numbers swelled by the minute.

Some among the growing mob focused their anger on the men's Toyota sedan, smashing it, flipping it over and setting it on fire, Wu said.

Later, three parked police cars received the same treatment by a crowd now several thousand strong.

Armed police tried to quell the disturbance, but were driven back by a hail of rocks and lit firecrackers, the store manager said. A local newspaper reported six policemen were injured.

The crowd then crashed through the windows of Wu's store and began grabbing anything they could get their hands on. By the time police arrived en force four hours later, the store had been stripped clean, he said.

"It was raining hard that day. Otherwise, more stores might have been looted," Wu said.

Armed police in full riot gear managed to restore order around midnight on Sunday, he said.

The riot followed a more violent incident in northern Hebei province earlier this month in which six villagers fighting to keep their land were killed and 48 injured in a skirmish with armed, hired toughs.