Tue, Sep 18, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Beijing angered by reports of rioting among ex-soldiers


China's government has protested what it said were inaccurate foreign media reports about riots among demobilized soldiers assigned to retraining institutes run by the Railway Ministry.

A human-rights monitoring group last week reported violent demonstrations earlier this month in at least four cities by hundreds of ex-soldiers angry at poor living conditions at the centers.

Camera phone footage of some of the protests was posted on Internet blogs and while most of the schools refused to comment, one official in the city of Qiqihar confirmed the unrest and said all demobilized soldiers had been sent home.

In a fax sent over the weekend to wire agencies, the ministry's International Cooperation Department expressed "extreme indignation and strong protest," over what it called an "irresponsible and distorted report."

The statement conceded incidents had occurred but said they were small in scale and that conditions had already returned to normal.

An "extremely small number" of students bearing "a few discontents" resulted in "inappropriate behavior," said the statement, which also demanded an apology.

Asked yesterday for additional clarification, an official at the International Cooperation Department again called the report incorrect, but refused to pinpoint the alleged errors or provide new facts. As is common among Chinese bureaucrats, the official identified himself only by his surname, Chen.

The reported riots broke out first in three cities at the same time, an example of coordinated protest action rarely seen since the 1989 pro-democracy protests centered on Beijing's Tiananmen Square. A further protest in Qiqihar came a few days later.

Former soldiers reportedly smashed classrooms, dormitories and cafeterias, set fires and overturned cars. Riot troops and police special forces were reportedly sent in to quell them.

The actions also highlighted the government's problems finding jobs for demobilized soldiers.

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