Exodus on main street: China's clean-up begins
Mary-Anne Toy, Beijing
July 22, 2008
Paramilitary policemen in front of the main Olympic stadium are part of a clampdown as Beijing gets ready to welcome the world. Photo: Reuters
THE clean-up of Beijing's streets has begun in earnest. Not just rubbish, but unwanted people who could be a source of embarrassment for the Chinese Government as the world arrives for the Olympics.
About 10 kilometres south of the Olympic Green, where thousands of smiling volunteers and officials are waiting to greet the first wave of tourists, hundreds of so-called "petitioners" who had journeyed to the capital to complain about corruption or other injustices were removed on buses yesterday.
Last Wednesday, when The Age visited this same petition office, up to 500 complainants from around the nation were queueing in a largely peaceful atmosphere under the watch of half a dozen young policemen. An older officer in a golf cart moved down the queue, patiently copping abuse from people angry about delays. The Age was able to interview people discreetly.
Yesterday the office was almost deserted and the atmosphere was tense. When The Age arrived soon after 11am, we saw why: two busloads of petitioners were being driven away as part of the Olympic clean-out of potential troublemakers.
A Hunan provincial official, sent to Beijing to identify and bring back Hunan petitioners, said proudly that six busloads of people had already been taken away that morning.
As The Age tried to interview the few dozen die-hard protesters remaining on the footpath, plain-clothes security men and uniformed police intervened repeatedly - in flagrant breach of China's Olympic pledge to allow foreign reporters to work freely.
Age photographer John Donegan was detained by two policemen as he stepped out of a taxi. Another officer filmed him while police were interrogating him.
A burly man in a striped T-shirt physically forced The Age's Chinese translator into the security guard's office and tried to close the door when we began asking questions.
The man, who refused to identify himself, said repeatedly that we should "go and look at the many Olympic venues" instead.
"These are conflicts among the Chinese people … We can solve them ourselves, you shouldn't talk to foreigners," the man told our Chinese assistant.
A female petitioner outside told us the crackdown had begun that morning, before the man in the striped shirt, who had followed us out, and other plain-clothes security officers intervened again.
Another woman, sitting in the gutter with her son, a laid-off soldier, said she was there to complain about the authorities failing to find her son a new job, before she too was moved on by security men who told her: "Leave here, don't stay here."
Two uniformed local police officers then politely asked us for our identification, confirmed it was lawful for us to be here but would do nothing to stop the plain-clothes men interfering with our interviews or intimidating petitioners.
While the petitioners were being bussed away in Beijing, two explosions on public buses in Kunming, the capital of the south-western province of Yunnan, left two dead and 14 injured. The explosions followed the fatal shooting by police of two protesters on Saturday during a riot by 400 rubber farmers in another part of Yunnan.
The incidents are the latest in a series of conflicts that authorities are worried will cause China to lose face when it fulfils its century-long dream of hosting the Olympics. Monday's bus explosions, which police say were deliberately caused, follows the execution of several alleged Muslim separatists in western Xinjiang province and several other riots across the country, including one in Guizhou last month that involved 30,000 people, all angry at alleged Communist Party and police corruption and collusion over the death of a teenage girl.
The Washington Post reported at the weekend that the local government in Yengishahar province had bussed several thousand students and office workers into a public square on July 9 and lined them up in front of a vocational school to watch the execution of three prisoners.
An execution squad fired rifles at the three, killing them on the spot.
The young men had been convicted of having connections to terrorist plots, which authorities said were part of a campaign aimed at disrupting the Olympics by the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, an underground separatist organisation in the vast Xinjiang region of western China, the Washington Post said.
The group has long fought for independence on behalf of the region's Muslim Uighur inhabitants