BEIJING (AP) — Protesters in southern China's manufacturing hub torched emergency vehicles in an outburst of anger against police abuse of migrant workers, eyewitnesses said Monday.
Sunday night's rioting followed three days of steadily growing unrest in the town of Xintang in Guangdong province, the linchpin of China's crucial export industry. Accounts of the violence in state-controlled media have been sparse, but the official Xinhua News Agency says a government team has been sent to the area to quell rumors surrounding the unrest.
While violent protests in China have become frequent over the past decade, recent weeks have seemed particularly turbulent. The vast region of Inner Mongolia last month saw its biggest street demonstrations in two decades, while a man angry over land seizures set off three homemade bombs at government buildings in a southern city, killing three people and wounding at least nine others.
Thousands of protesters attacked government offices in the central city of Lichuan last week following the alleged beating death of a local city council member while in police custody.
Though the triggers for the events are different, most are driven by common resentments over social inequality, abuse of power and suppression of legitimate grievances.
The Chinese leadership has reacted nervously to the turmoil, especially after popular uprisings began sweeping the Middle East and North Africa this year. In recent months, hundreds of government critics have been questioned, arrested or simply disappeared.
The violence in Xintang broke out Friday evening after a pregnant woman was pushed to the ground in a sweep against street vendors, most of whom are migrants from the southwestern province of Sichuan. Such disputes are common and bystanders often side with the vendors and accuse police of heavy-handed tactics.
Crowds soon gathered, blocking traffic and attacking government offices with bottles and bricks, Xinhua said. Police arrested 25 people accused of inciting the unrest, Xinhua said, adding that no deaths or injuries had been reported.
Violence continued to brew and tens of thousands of people gathered Sunday night at a major highway interchange, setting fire to more than two dozen emergency vehicles and fighting with police and paramilitary forces, said a salesman at the Xintang Ruilong clothing factory located close to the scene of the clash.
"It was such a horrifyingly spectacular scene," said the salesman, who gave only his surname, Wang. "You can never imagine what it looked like if you were not there."
Wang said the violence began after police adjuncts known as municipal management officers began beating migrants working as sidewalk vendors, ostensibly on orders from local government officials. Vendors then contacted relatives and friends who arrived in groups and began smashing vehicles and fighting with security forces, he said.
A female worker from the nearby Fengcai clothing factory, also surnamed Wang, said managers barred the 400 migrant workers from leaving the plant Sunday night.
"There were many people out on the streets late last night, shouting and trying to create chaos. Some of them even smashed police vehicles," Wang said.
Video of the protests posted online showed crowds blocking traffic, attacking cars and setting aflame buses, possibly dispatched to transport security forces.