Violence that an official said could have involved up to 30,000 people in southwest China has quieted down, after crowds angered over a girl's death torched government buildings.
The incident began when about 300 people, including some who were dissatisfied with a police report on the death of a 17-year-old girl, started to gather at about 3 p.m. on Saturday at the county government and public security bureau in Weng'an County of Guizhou Province, local government and police sources said. The chaos subsided on Sunday morning.
On Monday morning, order has restored to the county, in central Guizhou. Restaurants and roadside vendors opened business early as usual to offer meals. Downtown shops which were closed on Sunday were also reopened.
But traces of the violence were noticeable in the county government buildings. Police sources told Xinhua that 20 cops were wounded in the violence, and witnesses said more than 30 protesters were wounded.
A total of 20 burned vehicles were scattered in the yard of the Weng'an county government compound. Sections of the building of the county Communist Party committee had been gutted by fire, and a burned staircase was still smoldering. Dozens of government employees were clearing papers and other debris in the offices, doorways and on the stairs. About 100 armed policemen were patrolling the area.
"Although the incident has died down, I don't feel absolutely safe now," said Lu Xiaoli, a woman who owns a massage parlor near the public security bureau. "I was shocked by what happened. I hope the government can investigate, answer our concerns and restore security," she said.
The dead girl, Li Shufen, was a student at the No. 3 Middle School in Weng'an. Her body was recovered from a river in the county on June 22.
A police report said she had drowned, but her relatives contended that she was murdered. Some suspected that Li was raped and killed by people who had connections with local government officials.
Wang Jiao, a girl who studied in the same class as Li, together with two other men, was among the last people to speak to Li before she died. They were taken away by police after the death, and released the next day.
Vice county head Xiao Song denied connections between children of local officials and the girl's death.
But the police account proved difficult to accept for the girl's family and their supporters. Li's classmates and her landlord said she was a good student and couldn't have killed herself.
"She was a quiet and nice child. She seldom hung out or played around. I don't think she killed herself," said landlord Liu Jinxue, who helped pull her body from the river. Li's hometown was a rural township and she lived in a rented apartment in the county.
Liu told Xinhua that the girl's uncle, Li Xiuzhong, had several serious confrontations with the police, and was beaten by unidentified men in the street.
The uncle was in a county hospital last week, but had since been transferred elsewhere, Xinhua learnt.
Li's grandmother Lu Xiuzhen said the girl's father had departed for provincial capital, Guiyang, to petition the government and could not be reached. The mother had "gone mad" since the incident, she said.
"I demand the government thoroughly investigate the incident and give us a justifiable explanation," she said.
Sun Chengyong, a man who showed up among the crowd on Saturday, said the girl's death was "abnormal and deplorable", and he came along to show support for her family. One of the people in the crowd carried banners reading "Return justice to the people", Xinhua reporters saw.
The crowd swelled, eventually charging into the police building, witnesses said. Several vehicles and offices were torched. County officials said the government staff and police tried to persuade the crowd to leave and showed great restraint.
Police used tear gas to disperse the crowd. Local residents told Xinhua reporters they had not seen or heard the police fire gunshots at the crowd.
Vice county chief Xiao said the crowd reached as many as 30,000 people at one point. Police sources said people who had no knowledge about the details of the girl's death were incited to mob the buildings.
The provincial Party Secretary Shi Zongyuan and governor Lin Shusen ordered local authorities to handle the incident properly according to law. The provincial government has set up a work team to handle the incident. It also sent 10 criminal investigators and forensic experts to reinvestigate the death.
Local government employees were ordered to assist the family and classmates of the deceased girl.
Provincial public security chief Cui Yadong, who is also a member of the standing committee of the provincial Communist Party committee, arrived in Weng'an to handle the incident. He said 14 people were detained on Saturday night.
No information was available on the number of people still in police custody. Sources said some detainees were released after brief inquiries.
The county public security bureau broadcast appeals for order to be maintained and demanded those who committed offences to turn themselves in.
(Xinhua News Agency July 1, 2008)