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Police detain suspect for rumours that sparked China riots

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 16 Jun 2011 12:37 GMT
Author: Reuters
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HONG KONG, June 16 (Reuters) - Authorities in southern China's have detained a person on suspicion of spreading rumours that led to three days of rioting in one of the worst outbreaks of civil unrest in the export hub of Guangdong province in recent years.

Hordes of residents of the southern Chinese city of Zengcheng rioted over the weekend, angered by the mistreatment of a pregnant migrant street hawker who became a symbol for simmering grassroots discontent.

Guangzhou's public security bureau said it had detained a suspect surnamed Chen who had confessed to "disseminating rumours" over the Internet that the pregnant hawker's husband had been beaten to death by security personnel.

Scores of people were reportedly detained and have yet to be released, according to residents in riot-torn districts of Zengcheng including Xintang town and Dadun village.

The announcement was made on the bureau's microblogging site late on Wednesday, along with a warning that police would "investigate and punish" the spreading of rumours intended to disrupt public order.

Wild rumours had circulated among residents of Zengcheng that the woman and her husband had been killed by authorities, despite her reported appearance at a news conference to say neither herself nor her baby were harmed.

"We didn't know what to believe," said a young male resident of Zengcheng interviewed by Reuters earlier in the week.

"There were rumours of rumours."

The 20-year-old pregnant migrant hawker, Wang Lianmei, was pushed to the ground while security officers trying to clear her from the streets last Friday, media reported.

While a seemingly trivial incident, her case unleashed pent-up resentment amongst migrant workers toward brutality by security squads and building social pressures including rampant food and housing inflation.

Though China's 150 million or so rural migrant workers have gained better wages and treatment in recent years, the gap between them and established urban residents remains wide, feeding anger about discrimination and ill-treatment.

Other clashes have erupted in southern China in recent weeks, including in Chaozhou, where hundreds of migrant workers demanding payment of their wages at a ceramics factory attacked government buildings and set vehicles ablaze. (Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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