Police out in force again to stop 'jasmine' rallies flowering
Staff Reporters in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong
Major mainland cities were under heightened security yesterday, as authorities were put on high alert by online calls for 'jasmine' rallies for a third Sunday in a row.
But again, no apparent protests or mass gatherings were spotted in crowded city centres or busy shopping districts in Beijing, Shanghai and dozens of other cities listed as designated protest cities by the anonymous organisers.
Apart from tens of thousands of police, plain-clothes officers and security guards, a vast number of people wearing red armbands of 'public security volunteers' were also mobilised. Helicopters were used in the capital to help patrol areas deemed sensitive, such as university districts.
Foreign journalists fell victim to sweeping pre-emptive security measures for a second consecutive Sunday, with more than a dozen overseas reporters detained in Shanghai and Beijing.
Highlighting the government's hypersensitivity, Communist Party mouthpieces - the Beijing Daily, the Jiefang Daily in Shanghai and its affiliate the Shanghai Morning Post - issued stern warnings on the front pages against mass gatherings.
'A handful of people with ulterior motives at home and abroad have been plotting against China's rise and are trying to cripple the country's development by stirring up unrest,' said the Beijing Daily.
A commentary appeared on the front page for the second consecutive day, urging people to reject online calls for pro-democracy rallies, which it said had destabilised the Middle East and North Africa.
In Shanghai, at least 15 overseas reporters and one local assistant for a Japanese television station were detained by police and immigration officials after being picked up for 'visa checks' in and around the Raffles City shopping mall in the heart of the city. Some of the journalists were held for nearly three hours.
Spanish, French and German correspondents and a South China Morning Post reporter were also detained.
'You are more than welcome to go shopping, drink some tea or buy a coffee,' an immigration official told the Post reporter. 'You just may not conduct interviews.'
But within 25 minutes of arriving at the Raffles mall he was approached by two uniformed police officers, demanding to see his passport and press card.
The Post reporter was then taken to a small, unmarked, single-storey building with a traditional Chinese roof, and shortly afterwards led into an underground bunker. He was not released until about three hours later after being briefly interrogated about his motives for visiting the mall and the 'coincidence' of so many other foreign journalists having shown up.
Beijing's Wangfujing and Xidan, the busiest shopping areas in the capital, were packed with crowds as usual yesterday afternoon despite the heavy police presence.
While there were fewer uniformed police than last week, plain-clothes officers and security guards were everywhere. Adjacent roads leading to the areas were blocked by dozens of police vans.
Foreigners entering the areas were asked to show their passports.
In Zhongguancun, home to the capital's most famous university district - including the campuses of Peking, Renmin and Tsinghua universities - a visible display of police force was staged outside a major electronics market, which had been named as one of the gathering places by a purported rally organiser.
Several police cars were parked outside a Peking University entrance and the nearby road junction, but at Tsinghua University, security appeared much more lax. Universities in the capital were rumoured to have issued bans forbidding students to take part in jasmine rallies or show up at designated protest sites.
A reporter from Al Jazeera was detained for about 2 1/2 hours.
Although Beijing's massive show of force and the clampdown on activists and internet dissents have smothered protest calls so far, the situation appeared to be tense.
Even NPC delegates from Hong Kong staying in the Beijing Hotel near Wangfujing complained about the heightened security. Peng Qinghua, director of the central government's liaison office in Hong Kong, had to go through a security check into the hotel yesterday morning, unlike on previous days.
Another deputy, Michael Tien Puk-sun, was barred from using the hotel's side door to go to Wangfujing Street directly while in a hurry to attend an appointment.
'I am an NPC member. I am very unhappy. Why is that door shut? Why are you asking me to detour? What does it mean?' He complained to a hotel employee, who then said the door 'was not working'.
In Shenzhen, thousands of policemen, plain-clothes officers and security guards stood outside two McDonald's outlets in Huaqiangbei, the busiest shopping district, while hundreds of anti-riot policemen waited in cars and buses nearby.
In Guangzhou, the police presence outside People's Park and Tianhe Sports Stadium appeared to be much smaller than the previous two weeks. But it was more tense outside the Starbucks at Gongyuanqian subway station near People's Park, where uniformed officers filmed passers-by from every busy corner.
In Hong Kong, about 10 activists from the League of Social Democrats rallied outside the Beijing authorities' representative office.