China tells local leaders to go softly on complainers

Henry Sanderson | July 17, 2008 - 6:59AM

China has told local government leaders to be more responsive to people's complaints after several rural protests threatened to disturb the run-up to the Olympic Games, a government notice said Wednesday.

Officials should better resolve disputes and prevent mass events, according to a high-level meeting on dealing with petitioners held in eastern Jinan city of Shandong province this week, a notice on the web site of the Ministry of Supervision said.

The deputy secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, He Yong, said the changing social and economic landscape in China has created new challenges.

As Beijing enters the final stretch before the Aug 8-24 Olympics, the government is trying to prevent potentially embarrassing protests or complaints.

Two recent mass protests have revealed discontent with local officials in the countryside. Last month, more than 30,000 people protested and torched a police station in a town in hilly Guizhou province over what they believed was a cover-up of a teenage girl's death.

And over the weekend, hundreds of migrant workers attacked a police station in eastern Zhejiang province after one worker was allegedly beaten while trying to get a residence permit.

The protests and China's petition system, which allows people with unresolved local complaints to come to Beijing to ask for help, have become worrying areas for the government before the Olympics.

Petitioners coming to Beijing have been under a close watch, with police from the provinces lined up outside petition offices all day, sometimes sending them back home.

China also faces a threat of protest from disgruntled laid-off teachers who went to rural areas in the 1960s and '70s, but are no longer needed by the Chinese government.

A notice claiming to be from 150,000 laid-off teachers in five provinces Wednesday said they wanted to use the Olympics to draw attention to their case, although they did not intend to disrupt the games.

A government notice published in May on the education bureau web site of Sanmenxia town in central Henan province said every department has the responsibility to prevent laid-off teachers from organising mass petitions to "ensure a smooth Olympics."

Local Communist Party leaders around the country have been holding meetings this month in which they have been ordered to "thoroughly" deal with local disputes, Outlook Magazine, published by the official Xinhua News Agency, said Monday.

"Every locality should inspect and resolve all kinds of conflicts and disputes completely," the magazine said, citing a central government decision.

- AP