China sets up anti-terror squads as riots spread
Stuff.co.nz | August 18, 2005
BEIJING: China is setting up elite police squads in 36 cities to counter the threat of terrorism and put down riots, Xinhua news agency reported, as the government tries to contain growing unrest.
Beijing has already stepped up security ahead of the 2008 Summer Olympics, acknowledging the Games could make the capital a target.
The latest crack force, to be staffed by 500 officers, was set up in Zhengzhou in central Henan province on Wednesday, Xinhua said in an overnight report.
"The move is aimed at increasing police agencies' capability to deal with terrorist crimes, riots and other emergencies," it said.
China's far-western Xinjiang is home to minority Moslem Uighurs, some of whom have sought to establish an independent East Turkestan state. Human rights groups have criticised China for using the US-led war on terror as a pretext for an indiscriminate crackdown on Uighurs.
A more immediate problem for the ruling Communist Party, anxious to maintain stability in the world's most populous country, is the common and often violent protests fuelled by land disputes, corruption and a widening gap between rich and poor.
Some 74,000 protests and riots broke out nationwide last year, up from just 10,000 in 1994, and involved more than 3.7 million people, Chinese Security Minister Zhou Yongkang has been quoted as saying.
In July, the People's Daily called for perceived threats to stability to be crushed. "Destabilising factors must be resolved at the grassroots and nipped in the bud," the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party said in an editorial.
Henan is no stranger to unrest. Last November, at least seven people were killed and 42 injured in the province after a car accident involving an ethnic Han Chinese and a member of the Hui Moslem minority sparked rioting.
Some 300 toughs with rifles, clubs and sharpened pipes in June descended on Shengyou village in the neighbouring province of Hebei and clashed with farmers angry over a lack of compensation and staging a sit-in on land earmarked for a new lime plant.