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Wen vows action against protesters
Beijing, Feb 27 (Agencies):
Published on 28 Feb. 2011 12:07 AM IST
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Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao pledged on Sunday to tackle a range of hot-button public concerns as an online call for rallies across the country to pressure the government fizzled in major cities.
For the second straight week, several hundred police officers were mobilised to squash gatherings in Beijing and Shanghai following the anonymous appeal for citizens to press the ruling Communist Party for greater openness.
Earlier on Sunday, Wen promised action on top public concerns including soaring inflation and official corruption.
China’s leaders have watched with worry as those and other issues touched off political convulsions in the Middle East and North Africa.
“The purpose of our economic development is to meet the people’s growing material and cultural needs, and make the lives of commoners better and better,” Wen said.
Hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes police smothered Beijing’s designated demonstration site on the Wangfujing shopping street, aggressively pushing away foreign reporters with cameras and briefly detaining several.
Similar scenes took place at the Shanghai protest site near the city’s People’s Square.
The mysterious online protest appeal has urged citizens to gather for subtle “strolling” demonstrations in 13 cities each Sunday at 2 pm (0600 GMT) to highlight public anger with the government.
The call for Chinese “Jasmine rallies” -- a reference to the “Jasmine revolution” in Tunisia that set off a domino of unrest in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere, has not urged participants to take any overt protest action, but merely to turn out in force.
However, no actual demonstrations were seen in Beijing or Shanghai at the appointed hour and it was not clear whether anyone came out to answer the call.
In Shanghai, some Chinese were reportedly seen being taken away in three police vans.
Both ends of Beijing’s Wangfujing shopping street were closed and police checked people who entered, asking foreigners for their passports.
About 30 minutes after the appointed protest time, police began ordering most people to leave, repeatedly sending large road-cleaning trucks through the area to spray the streets with water and underline the point.
A reporter earlier saw a line of military-style transport trucks heading towards the site, emblazoned with banners calling for the maintenance of stability.
Wangfujing is a short walk from heavily policed Tiananmen Square, the scene of huge pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989 that were crushed by the Army.
A week ago, a heavy police presence turned out in several cities including Beijing and Shanghai for the first so-called “Jasmine rally,” which also appeared lightly attended and free of major incident.
The protest appeal -- seen on overseas Chinese-language websites but blocked by censors in China -- demanded government transparency and accountability to the people to prevent frequent abuses.
Wen echoed previous statements supporting accountability but gave no new details in his online chat, held each year since 2009 ahead of the annual session of China’s rubber-stamp parliament, which opens on Saturday.
Several arrested at ‘jasmine’ protest site
Police detained at least three people at the site of a “jasmine” protest in Shanghai, China Sunday as hundreds of people refused orders to leave the area, sources said.
A foreign reporter who watched the gathering near the Peace Cinema said he saw police take away three people and heard that several others were arrested.
The police used loud whistles and brought in water-spraying street cleaning trucks in a bid to persuade onlookers to leave the site, but many people stayed for about one hour, the reporter said.
“They didn’t want to move on,” he said of the people who gathered Sunday following an online call for peaceful protests in 23 cities.
At least a dozen foreign reporters were detained near the site of a similar event in Beijing Sunday.
No journalists were detained in Shanghai but they were involved in “a lot of scuffles” with police trying to move them away, the Shanghai-based reporter said.
At least 100 uniformed police and scores of plain clothes officers were deployed in Shanghai, he said.
Police nationwide detained scores of well-known rights activists before and since the first calls for protests in mid-February, charging at least four people with subversion, according to rights groups.
The police raided hostels used by legal rights petitioners near Beijing South railway station Friday night, taking away scores of people, according to unconfirmed reports by rights activists.
The government has also censored searches on news and micro-blogging websites for terms including “Egypt” and “jasmine”.
Open letters circulated online this week urged people to gather at designated places in 23 cities from 2 p.m. each Sunday.
The open letters, which originated from the US-based Chinese pro-democracy website, advised residents of unlisted cities to find central venues for protests.

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