February 20, 2011 in Nation/World

China acts quickly on call for protests

Activists held as ‘Jasmine Revolution’ idea spreads
Cara Anna Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

President Hu Jintao speaks to provincial and ministerial-level officials in Beijing on Saturday.
(Full-size photo)

BEIJING – Chinese authorities cracked down on activists as a call circulated for people to gather in more than a dozen cities today for a “Jasmine Revolution” apparently inspired by the wave of pro-democracy protests sweeping the Middle East.

The source of the call was not known, but authorities moved to halt its spread online, and police detained at least 14 people, by one activist’s count. Searches for the word “jasmine” were blocked Saturday on China’s largest Twitter-like microblog, and the website where the request first appeared said it was hit by an attack.

Activists seemed not to know what to make of the call to protest, even as they passed it on. They said they were unaware of any known group being involved in the request for citizens to gather in 13 cities and shout, “We want food, we want work, we want housing, we want fairness.”

Some even wondered whether the call was “performance art” instead of a serious move in the footsteps of recent protests in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria and Libya.

Always on guard to squelch dissent at home, China’s authoritarian government has appeared unnerved by the events in the Middle East. It has limited reporting and has restricted Internet searches to keep people uninformed.

Authorities appeared to be treating the protest call seriously. Families and friends reported the detention or harassment of several activists, and some said they were warned not to participate today.

Tensions were already high in recent days after a video secretly made under house arrest by one of China’s best-known activist lawyers, Chen Guangcheng, was made public. Chen and his wife reportedly were beaten in response.

The call for a Jasmine Revolution came as President Hu Jintao gave a speech to top leaders Saturday, asking them to “solve prominent problems which might harm the harmony and stability of the society.” Hu told the senior politicians and officials to provide better social services to people and improve management of information on the Internet “to guide public opinion,” the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The ruling Communist Party is dogged by the threat of social unrest over rising food and housing prices and other issues.

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