Protest-prone residents ordered to be on best behaviour

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 June, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 June, 1998, 12:00am

Shaanxi province's party leaders have been cleaning up Xian for Mr Clinton's visit by sweeping beggars off the streets and telling its protest-prone citizens to put aside their grievances.

Party television broadcasts have appealed for order, asking everyone to be on their best behaviour.

Hundreds of stalls have been ordered to pack up and police have scoured the streets, picking up the city's growing population of homeless from poor northern villages.

Vehicles have been watering trees and bushes on a new road along which Mr Clinton will travel.

At Xiahe village, beside the museum housing the terracotta warriors, officials have been showing journalists around what is being presented as a typical village - which President Clinton will visit this morning.

A town hall gathering is set to show him village democracy and tell him of private entrepreneurs flourishing in the countryside.

Xiahe is perhaps the province's richest village, becoming famous when one of its residents discovered the terracotta warriors while digging a well.

The village boasts an income fifteen times the average 2,000 yuan (HK$1,860) most Shaanxi peasants earn in a year. Xiahe villagers live in fine brick houses. Others live in caves only a half-hour drive away.

Many Xian residents are excited about the presidential visit but are especially curious to see if anyone dares exploit the opportunity to stage protests.

The city's economy has been deteriorating fast in the past year or two. Many large state-owned factories closed down last year. Among them was the Xian Textile Factory, a vast site where 8,000 worked.

Most laid-off workers have to live on 70 yuan a month. People tell of a worker who committed suicide last year because he could not support his family.

The Government has helped some people sell goods in newly opened retail markets, but so few have cash that some outlets have already closed down.

Around 30 per cent of the state factories' workforce are said to be unemployed. Some of those laid off are now driving taxis made in Xian. Two weeks ago, thousands of drivers descended on municipal government offices in a dispute over fees, which authorities agreed to lower.

There also have been mass protests over housing. Many old houses have been demolished and their occupants forced to rent homes.