A violent crackdown on peasant protesters in Dongzhou may have been much worse that reported. Initial foreign press reports said that at least two protesters were shot and killed. Now, Howard French writes in the New York Times that the incident may be the largest use of lethal force against civilians in China since 4 June 1989.
SHANGHAI, Dec. 9 - Residents of a fishing village near Hong Kong said that as many as 20 people had been killed by paramilitary police in an unusually violent clash that marked an escalation in the widespread social protests that have roiled the Chinese countryside. Villagers said that as many as 50 other residents remain unaccounted for since the shooting. It is the largest known use of force by security forces against ordinary citizens since the killings around Tiananmen Square in 1989. That death toll remains unknown, but is estimated to be in the hundreds.
The violence began after dark in the town of Dongzhou on Tuesday evening. Terrified residents said their hamlet has remained occupied by thousands of security forces, who have blocked off all access roads and are reportedly arresting residents who attempt to leave the area in the wake of the heavily armed assault.
“From about 7 p.m. the police started firing tear gas into the crowd, but this failed to scare people,” said a resident who gave his name only as Li and claimed to have been at the scene, where a relative of his was killed. “Later, we heard more than 10 explosions, and thought they were just detonators, so nobody was scared. At about 8 p.m. they started using guns, shooting bullets into the ground, but not really targeting anybody.
“Finally, at about 10 p.m. they started killing people.”
A Scotsman item, datelined today from Beijing, is also estimating there have been from 2-20 deaths, citing residents and Amnesty International and again raising comparisons with June 1989.:
Estimates from residents and rights groups put the number of dead between two and 20.
China’s Communist Party brooks no dissent but protests are becoming increasingly common, caused by disputes over land rights, corruption and a growing gap between rich and poor.
Many of the protests turn violent, but Amnesty said police opening fire marked a different turn.
“Police used guns on protesters the last time in 1989,” said Chine Chan, the east Asia campaigner for Amnesty International, referring to China’s military crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.
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Mao: The Unknown Story - by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday:
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