Crackdown to stop pro-democracy rallies in China


FEARFUL THE wave of change sweeping across North Africa and the Middle East could undermine the position of the Communist Party, Chinese security forces took to the streets of 13 major cities yesterday to squash any displays of dissent after a mysterious online call for a “Jasmine Revolution”, inspired by pro-democracy demonstrations elsewhere.

Crowds gathered outside McDonald’s in the Wangfujing shopping precinct, not far from Tiananmen Square, and some protesters were taken away.

One man was detained when he tried to place a jasmine flower in front of the restaurant.

There were extra police on the streets and the “great firewall” of China was cranked up to censor online calls on Twitter and domestic social networks to stage protests in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Nanjing and nine other major cities.

On Wangfujing, there were hundreds gathered but it was hard to tell the plainclothes police officers from the demonstrators.

When asked what was going on, uniformed officers laughed it off, saying: “Nothing is happening, do you see anything happening?” There were dozens of police vehicles parked near by.

The original online posting on the US-based Boxun website, which has since been blocked, consisted of a list of grievances about contemporary China.

It listed food-safety problems, laid off workers, corruption by officials and their children, the treatment of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, brutality against petitioners and those forced to move homes because of real estate development.

It called on citizens to shout: “We want to eat, we want to work, we want an apartment, we want fairness” – a slogan that highlights common complaints among ordinary Chinese. “Start political reform, end one-party dictatorship, and bring in freedom of the press.” Unemployment and rising prices have been key factors linked to the unrest that has spread to Bahrain, Yemen, Tunisia, Algeria and Libya.

The words “Jasmine Revolution” are blocked on the internet now.

In a speech on Saturday, President Hu Jintao acknowledged growing social unrest and urged the Communist Party to better safeguard stability while also ordering strengthened controls over “virtual society” or the internet.

He stressed the need to “build a socialist social-management system with Chinese characteristics, aiming to safeguard people’s rights and interests, promote social justice, and sustain sound social order”. In Wangfujing, one middle-aged man said the Jasmine Revolution was a good thing.

“Political reform is coming, and the sooner the better,” he said, before being pulled away by his anxious wife.

Near the door inside the restaurant sat one group of seven middle-aged men. One man winked and said they were there just for a cup of coffee.

“We are friends. We came here to have a look. And to support the Jasmine Revolution.”

One, a computer expert, said he was concerned about political progress in China. The Communist Party of chairman Mao Zedong had betrayed China, he said. He did not think the social unrest was similar to that seen in 1989, when pro-democracy groups occupied Tiananmen Square and demonstrated in many cities in China before a brutal crackdown on June 4th of that year.

“In 1989, June 4th was an attempt to readjust society in a just way to recover the dream, but it failed, and it would be much more difficult to have another try now,” he said. “This government is waiting for the old generation who remember Mao Zedong to die, and then they can do what they like.”