Chinese protesters riot after police attack pregnant woman


IN WHAT is turning into a summer of discontent, tensions between protesters and police near the southern manufacturing hub of Guangzhou erupted this weekend, with rioters burning emergency vehicles and rioting against police abuse of a pregnant street hawker.

The anger began after reports online spread that a group of security officials had pushed a 20-year-old pregnant migrant worker to the ground as they were trying to clear the area.

It led to a three-day standoff. Riot police in the town of Xintang fired tear gas into a crowd of angry migrant workers protesting about the mistreatment of their colleague. Witnesses in the county of Zengcheng said over 1,000 demonstrators were involved, and that at least one government building had been besieged.

While the disputes are local, the Beijing government has reacted in a muscular way to turmoil around the country, fearful that it may be inspired by the “Jasmine Revolutions” that swept the Middle East and North Africa this year.

Much of the online comment has blamed city functionaries known as chengguan – city inspectors, bailiffs and municipal enforcers whose job it is to apply city regulations, but who often overstep the rules and attack small businesses.

Some have been executed for their part in these attacks.

Last year China experienced 280,000 of what the government calls “mass incidents”, including petitions, demonstrations and strikes, both peaceful and violent, and invariably linked to anger over corruption, abuses and the illegal seizure of land.

This marks a steep rise from 87,000 incidents in 2005.

Thousands of protesters attacked government offices in the central city of Lichuan last week following the alleged beating to death of a local city council member while in police custody.

In recent months, hundreds of government critics have been questioned, arrested or simply disappeared, including the high-profile artist Ai Weiwei.