Protesters clash with riot police in Chinese city

April 11, 2012 - 6:55 AM

BEIJING (AP) — Order was being restored Wednesday after thousands of people clashed with police in a district of Chongqing that is struggling economically, a local official said.

The incident began at the same time late Tuesday when state media announced the purge of Bo Xilai, former party chief of the mega-industrial city, from the party's ruling circle, and the arrest of his wife, Gu Kailai, who is suspected of involvement in a murder case.

The Chongqing official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there was no connection between the two events. But the incident reflects the challenges local governments face as three decades of rapid economic expansion have left uneven growth.

The official said Wansheng district, where the clashes happened, is running out of mining resources and trying to modernize its economy. But its economic problems become more pronounced after it was merged into neighboring Qijiang county earlier this year, said the official, who like many Chinese officials did not want to give his name.

The official said after the merger "the economy in Wansheng was affected and residents have become upset." The merged region has more than 1 million people.

One witness from Wansheng, Liu Wei, said businesses and schools were closed Wednesday in the area. Liu said Wansheng residents were unhappy because some benefits, such as pensions and some teacher salaries, were reduced after the merger.

On Wednesday, the Chongqing government posted a statement on its website saying the city would safeguard pensions and medical benefits for Wansheng residents. It also said Wansheng would enjoy the same favorable policies as it did before the merger.

The names of Wansheng, Qijiang and Chongqing were blocked Wednesday on popular microblog sites, but some bloggers were able to upload photos reportedly taken from Wansheng that showed streets full of thousands of protesters and swarms of riot police, plus images of some people with blood-covered faces.

A banner in one photo read: "I want to eat. Return Wansheng district to me."