Special police units to counter protests and terrorism threats

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 August, 2005, 12:00am

The mainland plans to form special police units in 36 key cities to handle a growing number of protests and counter potential terrorism.

The Ministry of Public Security had backed the move to improve the capability of the police 'under new circumstances', Xinhua reported.

In recent months, the mainland has seen a surge in protests caused by disputes over everything from land to the environment. Some protests turned violent as local governments sent police or armed men to deal with the demonstrators.

As Beijing prepares to host the Olympics in 2008, the capital is striving to prevent any potential terrorist attacks on the international sporting showpiece.

The far western region of Xinjiang has seen a series of bombings by Muslim Uygurs demanding a separate state, while disgruntled members of the public have also set off bombs across the country.

Zhengzhou city , in the central province of Henan , formally set up a special 500-man riot unit this week. Xinhua did not identify the other cities slated for special units.

The Zhengzhou unit has been equipped with helicopters, armoured cars and other hi-tech equipment. The group has undergone six months of training in military tactics, martial arts and survival techniques.

Government sources said Shanghai would soon seek recruits for a similar police unit to tackle a growing number of protests, many involving property disputes.

A protest in the city over forced evictions stretched into a second week on Wednesday, although it appeared to have died down yesterday. The demonstration started outside a meeting of the Shanghai People's Congress.

The special unit will be set up by the Shanghai Public Security Bureau and not the paramilitary People's Armed Police, which the government also uses to quell riots. It is unclear what the relationship will be between the two.

Public Security Minister Zhou Yongkang has said the number of mass protests nationwide increased from 10,000 in 1994 to more than 74,000 last year, when 3.76 million people took part.

In an acknowledgment of the protest problem, the vice-minister of the Office of the Leading Group on Financial and Economic Affairs, Chen Xiwen , said last month that violent demonstrations were inevitable given economic changes, claiming they were a sign of growing democracy.