Party chief reported to have stepped in to calm student protesters

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 January, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 January, 2003, 12:00am

Party general secretary Hu Jintao has reportedly intervened to defuse a protest by students in Hefei, said to be one of the largest on the mainland since the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.

The Wuming Forum, an Internet chat room run by the Hefei Industrial University, posted a message claiming Mr Hu had promised that a truck driver alleged to have killed a student would be severely punished.

Thousands of students demonstrated outside the town hall after the accident, demanding the Anhui provincial government deal with traffic problems near the entrance to the university.

The Anhui government would not confirm whether Mr Hu was involved.

In response to a South China Morning Post inquiry, it issued a statement saying the provincial and municipal governments 'had attached great importance to the demands of the students'.

'The driver was detained at 3pm on Tuesday and relevant officials started feasibility studies into the proposed construction of a footbridge at the entrance of the university on Wednesday morning,' the statement said.

The government also said that only one student, instead of two as previously reported, had been killed.

The size of the protests outside the town hall is also in dispute. Initial reports claimed 10,000 students took part. But officials now say the crowd was closer to 1,000.

Both the government statement and students at the university said the protests were over.

A Hong Kong-based China watcher, Johnny Lau Yui-siu, said the big protests were a sign that young people born under the one-child policy era in the 1980s were outspoken in voicing their grievances.

Such children are generally regarded as being more self-centred and willing to stand up for their rights.

Mr Lau said Hefei had also seen several major student protests in the 1980s.

However, he said that students today were unlikely to become involved in pro-democracy protests.

'Unlike their predecessors in 1989 who were facing the problems of serious inflation and economic uncertainty, university students on the mainland now have a very bright future because of economic prosperity in China,' Mr Lau said.

'Therefore it is not likely they would insist on a prolonged movement once their preliminary demands were met.'