Riot in south China after death of fruit vendor

BEIJING (Reuters) – Angry residents in a southern Chinese city went on the rampage after officials apparently beat to death a disabled fruit vendor, a state media said on Wednesday, in the latest incident of social unrest in the world’s second-largest economy.

The China Daily said that thousands of people gathered on the streets of Anshun in Guizhou province on Tuesday afternoon, throwing stones at police and overturning a government vehicle.

The riot was sparked after urban management officers — a quasi-police force that enforces laws against begging and other petty offences — were suspected of beating the vendor to death, the newspaper said.

“The unidentified vendor died in front of the gate of a market … which led to the gathering of the local people,” it cited a government statement as saying.

“Before the incident occurred, urban management officers were working in the area,” it added, saying the statement gave no other details.

The newspaper showed a picture of an urban management vehicle which had been overturned, along with smashed windows and doors that had been torn off.

Xinhua news agency said around 30 protesters and 10 police officers were injured in the unrest.

The elder brother of the dead man has “consented to (an)autopsy and asked police to seek justice”, it added. “Police are questioning six city management staff members involved in the case.”

Footage on China’s popular website, the country’s answer to YouTube, showed a large crowed gathered in the street, and what seemed to be a body on the ground shaded by umbrellas.

An overturned vehicle could be seen in the distance, along with many police officers and a black armored car used by China’s riot police.

Reuters could not authenticate the footage, nor when it was taken. Calls to the Anshun government seeking comment went unanswered.

“It was a total mess,” one onlooker surnamed Jiang told the China Daily. “The people threw stones at the police officers and my feet were hit by flying rocks.”

Hong Kong’s Ming Pao newspaper said that the police used water cannons to disperse the protesters, who finally left the scene late in the evening.

In 2008, crowds stormed police and government headquarters in another part of Guizhou after allegations spread that police had covered up the rape and murder of a local teenage girl, seeking to protect the son of a local official.

China’s stability-obsessed rulers get nervous about any sort of protest or unrest.

Earlier this month, a court in the southern export hub of Guangdong province jailed 11 people for their roles in riots that hit a city there in June.

In 2007, China had more than 80,000 “mass incidents”, up from more than 60,000 in 2006, according to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Many involved no more than dozens protesting against local officials over complaints about corruption, abuse of power, pollution or poor wages.

No authoritative estimates of the number of protests, riots and mass petitions since then have been released.

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