Beijing, April 11 (Reuters): Thousands of villagers rioted in eastern China, injuring dozens of police, after two of about 200 elderly women protesting over factory pollution died during efforts to disperse them, residents and officials said today.
The rioting yesterday in Huankantou village, Dongyang city, in the wealthy coastal province of Zhejiang coincided with violent anti-Japanese protests in Beijing and the southern cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen over the weekend.
It was the latest in a string of outbreaks of rural violence as the world's most populous nation faces disgruntlement over a widening wealth gap and widespread corruption.
The ruling Communist Party is keen to curb dissent and preserve social stability, but a spate of recent protests and their scale illustrate the extent of grievances in rural China. More than 50 police were injured yesterday and rushed to hospital, with five listed in critical condition, a doctor said. About four villagers were injured.
Police had tried to disperse about 200 elderly women who had kept a 24-hour vigil for two weeks at sheds and at a roadblock outside an industrial park housing about 13 chemical factories, villagers and local officials said by telephone.
Two of the women were killed, two villagers said. 'They were run over by police cars,' one said.
A source with knowledge of the incident who requested anonymity said the two had died during an attempt to arrest them. He did not elaborate, but a statement from the city government denied that anyone had been run over and killed. Thousands of villagers clashed with police in riot gear, overturned about 10 police cars and hurled rocks at officers holed up in a local high school, residents and officials said.
'Villagers knocked down the wall of the school and charged in,' one villager surnamed Wang said.
Residents also smashed the windows of about 50 buses which carried some 3,000 police, paramilitary police and security guards to the scene at about 1900 GMT on Saturday to try to disperse protesters, they said. 'Many policemen were injured... Tens of thousands of people surrounded the school,' one government official said. 'Our leaders required us not to retaliate so we could only use shields to protect ourselves.'
In an official comment, the Dongyang city government said the sheds and roadblocks around the industrial zone had seriously disturbed order. Officials from construction, transportation, land administration and women's affairs departments had begun to pull down 'the illegal bamboo sheds' yesterday morning.