August 17, 2005

China sets up anti-terror squads as riots spread

BEIJING (Reuters) - 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 Muslim
Uighurs, some of whom have sought to establish an independent
East Turkestan state. Human rights groups have criticized China
for using the U.S.-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 fueled by
land disputes, corruption and a widening gap between rich and

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. "Destabilizing
factors must be resolved at the grassroots and nipped in the
bud," the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party said in an

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 Muslim minority sparked rioting.

Some 300 toughs with rifles, clubs and sharpened pipes in
June descended on Shengyou village in the neighboring 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.