Wed, Jul 14, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Petitioners threaten to kill themselves in Beijing protest


At least 20 disgruntled protesters threatened to jump off a Beijing building in a mass suicide bid unless the State Supreme Court agreed to hear their grievances, witnesses and court officials said yesterday.

The petitioners from northeast China were among thou-sands who gathered on Monday in southern Yongdingmen district to file formal petitions over a series of issues with the court.

"In all there was a group of 50 to 60 people from northeast China, among them some 20 climbed up to the top of the building and threatened to jump," Beijing rights activist Liu Anjun (劉安軍) said.

"Up to 2,000 people gathered around the building to watch and support them, most of them were petitioners that had come to Beijing from all over the country," he said.

Police climbed the building and after four-and-a-half hours of negotiations persuaded the chanting and wailing protesters to come down and took them away, Liu said.

"There were not that many people who threatened to jump and there weren't 2,000 petitioners gathered around the building. Most of the onlookers were ordinary Beijingers," an official at the State Supreme Court petitions office said.

"Because the complaints of these people do not conform to the court's jurisdiction and are problems that are the responsibility of the government, we told them that they needed to go to the State Council," added the official, who refused to be named.

Protests in China have increased markedly as market economic reforms have led to spectacular growth and a greater awareness of personal rights and interests, especially amid blatant corruption at a local level.

Meanwhile, a lack of political and judicial reforms has resulted in a system that has largely appeared unable to cope with the increasing demands for social justice.

Beijing police refused to comment on the incident.

According to Radio Free Asia, the rooftop petitioners were mostly miners from Heilongjiang Province who had exhausted efforts in their hometowns and so had to come to Beijing.

"Most of them are petitioners, because this is where all the petitioners come," said Zhang Chaoxin, who traveled more than 1,600km from his hometown in southern Guangdong Province to make his complaint.

"It's a highly emotional scene, but it's not out of hand," he said.

The requisition of land by local governments and crony development companies is a frequent cause for complaint in China as residents are evicted with little ceremony and scant compensation.

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