Wed, Nov 08, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Protests, riots down in China

HARMONIOUS SOCIETY The drop in symptoms of public discontent came as good news to Beijing as it seeks to project a positive image to the outside world

AGENCIES , BEIJING

The number of Chinese protests and riots fell by over a fifth in the first nine months of this year, a senior official said, as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) seeks to quell discontent and promote a "harmonious society".

Police dealt with 17,900 "mass incidents" from January to September, a vice minister of China's Ministry of Public Security, Liu Jinguo, told a police meeting on Monday, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

This was a drop of 22.1 percent on the number of protests, riots, mass petitions and other "mass incidents" in the corresponding months of last year, Liu said.

Altogether, 385,000 people took part in the incidents, Liu said -- meaning that on average each had about 22 people taking part. He also noted falls in violent crime and theft.

China's leaders are mounting a long campaign to bolster brittle social stability by raising the welfare and incomes of China's poor farmers and migrant workers and by cracking down on political dissidents and disgruntled citizens.

But officials have warned the countryside remains far from tranquil, as hundreds of millions of poor farmers seek a foothold in the nation's newfound wealth, protesting over the loss of farmland, corruption and sickening pollution.

"Overall, public safety in rural regions across the country is stable, but the basis for that stability is not solid," Liu said, warning that unapproved religious groups were spreading and gaining influence.

In January, China put the total number of "public order disturbances, obstructions of justice, gathering of mobs and stirring up of trouble" -- a broader category than mass incidents -- at 87,000 last year, up 6.6 percent from 2004.

Public Security Minister Zhou Yongkang said at the meeting on Monday that defusing rural unrest was a priority.

Meanwhile, more Chinese police officers will be sent to rural areas amid a government project to crack down on mafia-style crime in the countryside, state media reported yesterday.

More than 30,000 new police stations have been constructed in rural regions as part of an effort to spread police officers more effectively across the vast country, the Xinhua news agency said.

The announcement of the intensified effort in the countryside came as the government's top leader in charge of public security issued a call to crack down on crime in rural areas.

Rural police should especially pay attention to the threat posed by "mafia-like evil forces", said Luo Gan (羅幹), from the powerful nine-member standing committee of the CCP's political bureau.

He was not quoted as specifying what he meant by Chinese mafia.

However, organized crime in the countryside is typically based on clan and family networks.

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