More details are emerging about the riot in Longnan, Gansu earlier this week. The Washington Post writes about it and a taxi strike Wednesday in Chongqing, and puts both incidents in a larger economic context:
In both provinces, officials attributed the unrest to local disagreements or land disputes rather than to the economic slowdown. But leaders have also expressed concern about factory closings, promising to compensate many of those who have lost their jobs in the downturn.
Wang Jinli, a 50-year-old Wudu farmer, said she saw police beat residents in front of the Longnan party secretary’s offices Monday and Tuesday, then watched as ambulances took the injured away. “They used their sticks to beat passersby no matter whether they were young or old,” Wang said, adding that more than 100 people had been arrested.
“Although I don’t have money, the economic recession is related to everyone,” she said. “Right now, people can make a living even by picking up garbage, but if they move the city government, where will we find garbage? We eat rice and flour now, but if the center moves away, we will all be eating corn. It will move the economy back 20 years.”
At least 60 people, including police and officials, were injured during the riots, according to a statement on the government website of Longnan city in Gansu province, where the violence occurred.
“Protesters used iron rods, chains, axes, hoes… to attack officials and policemen at close proximity,” the statement said.
They also threw stones, bricks and flowers pots at the officials and police in front of the local government building, and attempted to hijack a fire truck that came to put out a blaze they started, according to the statement.
Meanwhile, China Daily reports on statements by the nation’s top public security official encouraging local cops to build “harmonious” relations with the people:
Speaking at a teleconference with local police heads, State Councilor and Minister of Public Security Meng Jianzhu said police should “be fully aware of the challenge brought by the global financial crisis and try their best to maintain social stability”.
They must improve methods of law enforcement using “harmonious thinking to ease conflicts”, and by having “a harmonious attitude toward people”, he said.
In an earlier article, Meng said: “In handling mass incidents, we must be clear that the chief tasks of the public security authorities are to maintain order at the scene, ease conflicts, avoid excessive steps and prevent the situation from getting out of control.”
Update: In related news, in responding to a reporter’s question about whether labor unrest was the top concern for the Human Resources and Social Security Ministry, the top minister acknowledged that the employment situation is “grim,” according to a Xinhua report:
Human Resources and Social Security Minister Yin Weimin on Thursday described China’s job picture as “grim” and said the global financial crisis could have further negative effects on employment.
Yin also said in response to a reporter’s question that labor unrest was the ministry’s “top concern”.
Worsening global conditions had begun to weigh on the job market last month, with unemployment resulting as some enterprises, especially smaller labor-intensive ones, shut down or suspended production, Yin told a press conference in Beijing.
Also, 30 people have reportedly been arrested for the Gansu riots.
Update 2: In a rare move, the governor of Gansu has traveled to Longnan to meet with a group of protesters to explain the government’s position. From Reuters:
Xu Shousheng held a meeting with 10 representatives two days after the riot, a rare concession by a top leader and a sign of government concerns about stability as the economy slows. The protests were sparked by local residents’ worries about a government resettlement plan after the May 12 earthquake killed more than 80,000 people and made 1.8 million people homeless in Sichuan and neighboring provinces.
Xu told the group he met that the changes in Wudu town were only in the planning stage and could be vetoed by the central government. He also promised to protect their livelihoods if the resettlement gets the go-ahead.