Wed, Nov 17, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Quarrel over toll station sparks deadly riot

INSTABILITY In the latest example of social unrest, hundreds of Chinese police were called in to put down a deadly riot that resulted from a dispute at a toll station

AFP , BEIJING

One teenager died, seven firefighters were injured and 17 people arrested after some 1,000 police officers used tear gas to quell a riot in southern China last week sparked by a quarrel over a toll station.

The riot, which broke out last Wednesday in Xianqiao town in Guangdong Province but was not reported in major Chinese media, marked the latest in a series of incidents of social unrest.

The protest followed a quarrel between a local woman and staff at the Yonghua Bridge toll station, which had long been unpopular with residents.

"The incident arose because a woman didn't want to pay a toll, and was beaten. The station was supposed to stop charging this May," a nearby resident surnamed Li said.

Villagers surrounded the toll station around 9pm, looted and torched the building, residents said.

"There were some 20,000 to 30,000 nearby residents and passersby who watched," said another resident Li Hongxiao.

"All three firefighting brigades in Jieyang responded," said a firefighter at a local brigade.

He refused to divulge details, but local residents said when the fire engines arrived to put out the blaze, one of them knocked over an 18-year-old teenager, who died instantly.

"The fire engine crushed him when it was trying to back up, but this was an accident not intentional," said the first Li.

The crowd then pelted the fire engines and firefighters with stones before setting the vehicles ablaze, residents said.

Authorities dispatched more than 1,000 public security officers, including anti-riot police, to the scene, but they were not able to disperse the crowd until after midnight.

"They sprayed water at the crowd with water hoses. That didn't work so police later fired tear gas to disperse the villagers," said the first Li.

Several villagers were injured, residents said.

Jieyang police arrested 17 people and have ordered all others involved in the riot to turn themselves in by yesterday, Jieyang city media reported.

"Anyone who fails to turn himself in by the required deadline or continues to carry out illegal criminal activities will be firmly sought out and arrested by public security organs and severely punished according to the law," said a notice issued by the Jieyang Public Security Department.

The statement was published in the Jieyang Daily, which carried a report on the police version of the events, saying only several dozen villagers took part in the riot, which police said "seriously disrupted social order."

A police notice warned that any individual or organization that assists or shelters suspects will be treated as accomplices.

The teenager's family has received 250,000 yuan (US$30,000) in compensation, residents said.

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