Heavy-handed reaction to China's 'Jasmine' protests
Published 28/02/2011 | 11:32
Chinese police and plain-clothes agents barricaded one of Beijing's main pedestrian shopping streets on Sunday in response to calls for a "Jasmine revolution".
Protest organisers had called for ordinary citizens to "take a stroll" yesterday at 23 sites across China, often busy areas in city centres, to express their displeasure at the country's lack of political reform.
"We invite every participant to stroll, watch or even just pretend to pass by," said a letter published on Boxun, a foreign-based website that is banned in China. "As long as you are present, the authoritarian government will be shaking with fear". It was the second weekend in a row that protests were planned.
But while there was little response to the call from the public, with at most a few hundred people milling around in Shanghai, the Chinese government has taken the threat extremely seriously.
In Beijing, the Wangfujing pedestrianised shopping street was occupied by squads of policemen with dogs, plain-clothes officers, and members of the People's Armed Police, a division of the army.
The local branch of McDonald's, the meeting point designated by the organisers of the protest, was shut down, with customers briefly locked inside.
Outside, street-cleaning trucks doused the street with water, which sent passers-by scrambling. The authorities closed off some of the street with blue construction site barriers, and harassed a number of journalists.
Reporters in Beijing have now been warned not to conduct interviews in the capital without prior permission. Broadcasts by CNN and the BBC have been blocked, and reporters from the BBC were bundled into a van by police and driven away from Wangfujing.
A number of human rights activists have been charged with "inciting subversion", a serious crime that can carry a hefty jail sentence. Ran Yunfei, Chen Wei and Ding Mao in Sichuan have all been arrested, as have Hua Chunhui in Jiangsu and Liang Haiyi in Harbin, according to Human Rights in China, a Non Government Organisation.