Violent veterans rally in China leads to 10 arrests

Ten suspects have been arrested for organising a “serious attack” on police officers during a veterans’ protest in northern China in October, according to state media.

According to People’s Daily, the accused organised a protest by 300 people from across the country, calling for better benefits for veterans, at a major public square in Pingdu, Shandong province.

During the assembly, some of the rally participants, led by the 10 suspects, acted violently towards the police and smashed police vehicles, the provincial police authority said, adding that their actions had caused injuries and led to substantial economic losses.

The report said 34 people, including an unknown number of police officers, were wounded in the violence, including two senior people officers who were seriously injured. In addition, a police bus and three private cars were destroyed.

More than 100 shops were forced to close during the rally and 11 buses had to change their routes to avoid the violence. Direct economic losses were estimated to have reached 8.2 million yuan (US$1.1 million).

The incident, on October 6, attracted the attention of the Ministry of Public Security as one of only a few large-scale examples of social unrest on the mainland over the past few years.

The People’s Daily report did not say if the 10 suspects were veterans, but local police said they had “complicated backgrounds” including criminal records in some cases.

All of the arrested are residents of Pingdu.

They are alleged to have used social media to contact people across the country and to have encouraged them to file petitions in Beijing during the “golden week” holiday, at the start of October, while posing as tourists.

They are also accused of spreading fake messages on social media after their plans were thwarted by authorities in Pingdu.

The suspects are reported to have told their followers they had been beaten up by government officials and encouraged them to support them by coming to the city.

At noon on October 6, about 300 people appeared at the People’s Hall square in Pingdu, waving banners and chanting slogans, although the report was unclear what they were calling for.

Two of the accused are said to have addressed the event, inciting people to use violence against the government.

One of the suspects, surnamed Ge, 46, was quoted as saying: “Bring wooden sticks and iron shovels with you. Hit their heads and beat them to death.”

Another suspect, surnamed Ji, 55, is alleged to have said: “We should kill more people to shock the whole nation”, according to the report.

Police said the suspects hired cars to take 105 sticks, 60 hammers, 16 dry powder extinguishers and a bag of talcum powder to the assembly site.

According to a local government statement, offers to negotiate with the protesters were rejected. The demonstrators also refused to leave the square until they received financial compensation from the government.

The conflict is believed to have been triggered when police tried to stop people crossing a cordon to join the 30 protesters originally within the square.

A tussle ensued and eight people were taken to a police bus parked nearby.

Several minutes later, three of the suspects are said to have led 60 protesters in an attack on the police. The windows of the police bus were smashed and the fire extinguisher was discharged into the vehicle, forcing police officers and the eight detained protesters to climb on to the roof of the bus to escape the fumes.

According to the report, the protesters threw stones at the police officers while also continuing to spray them with the fire extinguisher.

The police officers behaved in accordance with the law throughout the riot, which lasted for 11 minutes, the report said.

The report did not say how many people who took part in the rally were veterans.

Police said one of the suspects, surnamed Zheng, had previously been jailed for obstructing police and provoking trouble. Another suspect, surnamed Yang, had previously been caught with drugs.

Police also said a suspect surnamed Liu had been jailed for two years for theft, while another, surnamed Ge, had previously been sentenced to two years in jail for fraud.

Veterans have been an important issue for the mainland authorities this year, with the establishment in April of the new Ministry of Veterans Affairs.

The ministry has been collecting personal information from veterans across the country between August and December, as a “first step” in developing a policy on what packages veterans will receive from China’s governments in future, according to officials.

Last month the ministry and the Communist Party’s Central Propaganda Department spearheaded a nationwide role model campaign in which the nation’s 10 “most beautiful veterans” were selected.

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