Tax dispute sparks east China street protests

BEIJING (Reuters) – Hundreds of people have clashed with police and smashed public property in China’s eastern Zhejiang province after a dispute between tax authorities and a local shop owner snowballed into protests, a government-run news site said.

Chinese leaders, obsessed with maintaining stability, have struggled to balance growth with persistent public discontent over corruption, pollution and illegal land grabs winked at by local officials looking to boost development.

In the Zhejiang dispute, which began on Wednesday, a children’s clothing store owner in the town of Zhili in Huzhou city refused to make tax payments to local officials and then mustered other shop keepers to rally in support and attack the officials, Zhejiang Online said.

The dispute then spilled on to the street and drew more than 600 people, the report added.

A Huzhou government propaganda official, who declined to be identified, said by telephone that the incident had “quietened down”.

But a clerk at a local hotel in the Wuxing district where the protest occurred said many hotels in the area had closed.

Pictures posted on China’s Twitter-like microblogging service, Sina’s Weibo, showed large crowds blocking traffic and shield-toting riot police marching through the streets. One photo showed a public security bus engulfed in flames.

Reuters was not able to independently verify the authenticity of the images.

Some Weibo users said the unrest was continuing.

“Around 11 a.m. large-scale car and shop smashing started again. Now, all of Zhili has been blocked off and every street has armed police. Cars are only allowed out, not in,” one user wrote.

The Zhejiang Online report said protesters hurled rocks, smashed traffic lights, billboards and cars, and injured several public security and city management personnel before police were able to disperse the crowds.

Many of the shop owners who initially began marching toward the city government building were from neighbouring Anhui province, it said.

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