Police Detain Hundreds In China Over Protests
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
The Beijing Olympics are just over a month away and in China, police have been busy tamping down unrest. Over the weekend, thousands of rioters burned police buildings and cars in Weng'an County in Guizhou Province - that's in the southwest of China. The rioters are angry over what they claim is a cover-up by authorities of a young girl's murder. The riots come as China's government intensifies efforts to minimize protest across the country.
For the latest, I spoke with NPR's Anthony Kuhn, who is in Beijing.
ANTHONY KUHN: It seems to have been pretty serious, Robert. There are reports that anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000 rioters turned over police cars, burned police and Communist Party offices, even attacked fire engines that were trying to put out the fire.
It all started Saturday afternoon when the police released a report into the death of a 17-year-old high school student named Li Shufeng, and locals did not buy this account, and they started rioting, and it took until early Sunday morning for police to get things under control. There are reports that one person was killed and 150 injured, and about 300 have been arrested since then.
SIEGEL: And what was it about the death of the girl that has led to such protest? What is it the protesters don't buy about the official story?
KUHN: Well, this student, Li Shufeng, was found dead, her body was dredged out of the river on June 22nd. Police say they conducted a preliminary investigation and found that she threw herself into the river and drowned in an apparent suicide. Locals say that she was seen with three young men who they say raped and murdered her. The police then arrested but then let go. And what people are angry about is they say that at least one of these suspects was a son of a local police or law enforcement official.
And the government denies these accounts and says their investigation showed that this was not true, and that people who participated in the riot were not aware of the circumstances. But opinion on the Internet seems to be very much in favor of the protesters.
SIEGEL: Now, as you've reported, there are thousands of protests in rural China every year. How typical or how extraordinary was this one?
KUHN: A lot of things about it look very familiar. We've seen a lot of cases in which people riot in anger over what they perceive to be people with connections or connections to power flouting the law, killing people and getting away with it, and at police cover-ups of corruption within the judicial system. Of course, another very familiar thing about it is that people capture this with their cell phones and then put the video on YouTube.
And it's also familiar in that it comes as the government is talking about a harmonious society, and people can't help but see this sort of news and say, what harmony?
KUHN: And if so, how is this harmony to come about?
SIEGEL: Anthony, when you say that there are videos taken with cell phones that you can see on YouTube - I've seen one of them, can people in China see them or is this something blocked by the firewall?
KUHN: I've seen some that are blocked. I've seen some that are available on, for example, a Korean version of YouTube. So there's a lot of debate on this on the Internet right now, and some of it is available.
SIEGEL: And government policy, looking at events like this and looking ahead to the Olympics in August?
KUHN: Officials held a meeting over the weekend in which they said they're going to try to stop all sorts of petitioners and protesters from making it to the capital. The capital itself is under increasingly tight security including airport-style security checks within the subway. And it seems to be - the heaviness of the security seems to be cutting into the festive mood a bit of the Olympics.
SIEGEL: Okay. Thank you, Anthony.
KUHN: Thank you, Robert.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Anthony Kuhn speaking to us from Beijing.
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