Sunday, November 09, 2008

Shenzhen, China - Hundreds of rioters attacked police in Shenzhen on Friday afternoon after a motorcyclist died near a checkpoint. The violence continued until yesterday morning, when calm was restored in China's southern economic powerhouse. The protest was the latest in a series of confrontations over social issues in China, where thousands of riots erupt each year, many stemming from grievances over abuse of power, corruption or land grabs.

Anger flared when Mr Li Guochao, 31, crashed into a lamp-post after a local official threw a walkie-talkie at him as he sped towards a checkpoint set up by a sub-district office, according to a statement from the public security bureau in the city of more than eight million. Mr Li's family, who thought the mishap was caused by the police of a nearby district, attacked their station on Friday afternoon. They were joined by hundreds of others, some of whom burned a police car, the statement added.

The street where the violence took place had returned to normal yesterday afternoon. There was a beefed-up police presence outside the station where the riots took place.

Mr Li, who had no riding license, had been stopped at the checkpoint in the city's Bao'an district while riding his motorcycle, which bore no number plate, the police statement said. An official tried to block his path when he turned back at a crossroad, but seeing that he was going to crash through the checkpoint, threw the walkie-talkie at him. Mr Li lost control of his motorcycle and crashed into the lamp-post, the statement said. He was taken to hospital where he died a few hours later.

Mr Li's relatives gathered about 30 people and carried his body to the police station, where they 'smashed things' and set off firecrackers, the statement added. By 5pm, more than 400 people had gathered at the police detachment with more than 2,000 others watching nearby. Some people threw stones and set fire to a police car. Police were able to disperse the crowd only at 2am. There were no other reports of injuries.

The checkpoint official has been detained by police, while the official Xinhua news agency said Shenzhen's public security bureau had established that police had shown restraint in handling the unrest. People living in the Bao'an area said the checkpoints were set up to enforce a ban on motorcycles following a spate of muggings by riders who snatched handbags.

China's top police official has urged officers to avoid inflaming protests at a time when social unrest is easily ignited. In June, residents in Weng'an town in south-western Guizhou province torched and ransacked police headquarters and government offices after allegations spread that police had covered up a girl's rape and murder.