Security stepped up to check 'strolling' protests in China

Last Updated: Sun, Feb 27, 2011 13:06 hrs

Beijing: Security was stepped up here today to check "strolling" protests called by overseas Chinese dissident groups in the heart of China's capital, modelled on the anti-government movement sweeping the Arab world.

The Chinese capital felt a whiff of 'Jasmine Revolution' sweeping the Arab nations as hundreds of police turned a kilometre-long commercial street into a veritable fortress, deterring "strolling protests" called by US-based dissident website, in Beijing and 17 other cities to oppose the Communist Party rule.

People had been asked to 'Jaywalk' to escape any crackdown around 2:00 pm for the second Sunday in a row.

Wangfujing, city's commercial hub located a stone throw from the historic Tiananmen Square, the scene of 1989 anti-government protests, witnessed a tense stand off for hours, as police seemed to outnumber pedestrians. Contingents of police trailed everyone on the street to prevent any semblance of protests.

Hours before the planned "protests", Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao held a live chat with "netizens" promising several populist measures, including cutting down China's famous double digit GDP to ensure focus on improving livelihoods of people.

He said in the next five years the government would focus on seven per cent GDP growth target, highlighting the need to raise the quality of growth and improve living standards.

China's economy grew at an annual rate of about 10 percent from 2006 to 2010.

"We'll never seek a high economic growth rate and size at the price of the environment, as that would result in unsustainable growth with industrial overcapacity and intensive resource consumption," Wen said.

"The whole world is talking about China's rise, and what the people talk about most is (China's) GDP. But I think China's rise lies in talents and education," he said.

Added to the tense atmosphere at the popular street in the heart of the capital was the presence of large contingent of foreign media and diplomats of different countries, keeping close watch to any hint of protests called by in Beijing and other cities to oppose the Communist Party rule.

While the foreign media here had no clue about the depth of support among the Chinese for such a call, it appeared to have made the government nervous, specially coming in the background of spontaneous protest in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and several other autocratic Arab and Gulf states. The government seemed determined to nip all protests in the bud.

In the end, foreign media was left in a quandary as no visible protests were noticed. However, in response police sealed off many roads to Wangfujing, which attracts thousands of shoppers on weekends.

Accreditation cards of foreign correspondents were video graphed before allowing them though select routes onto the street.

Many people visiting the area said they were told that the security arrangements were tight due to the visit of a VVIP to the area.