Residents say protests are ongoing
Tensions in the former Wansheng district of Chongqing remained high yesterday as residents said a massive demonstration, reportedly against the merger of the affluent district with a poorer county, rolled into its third day - presenting a first public test for the municipality's new party boss, Zhang Dejiang, who took over following the recent downfall of Bo Xilai.
Meanwhile, the Chongqing Daily, which once showed staunch loyalty to Bo, has become critical of the former high-flyer, printing a commentary accusing him of causing significant damage to the country and the municipality's development.
In what appeared to be an attempt yesterday to acknowledge but downplay the demonstrations in Chongqing, the local government posted a statement on an official Chongqing news portal, Cqnews.net, saying that 10,000 protestors had gathered during the height of the demonstration, but insisting nobody had been killed. Residents, however, said at least two people died as the protest turned into a riot on Tuesday.
The official word out of Chongqing was that the crowd had dispersed and social order had been restored yesterday.
But that statement was also at odds with accounts by residentswho said the demonstration was continuing, though no violence was reported.
In October, the State Council approved the merger of Wanshengwith Qijiang county to form a new district called Qijiang. Under the plan, Wansheng was to become an economic and technical zone within the district.
Qijiang county is considered a less affluent counterpart and Wansheng residents fear the merger will affect their welfare benefits, including pensions.
Local residents said roads and shops were closed on Tuesday, and that tear gas was fired to disperse angry crowds, leaving at least 50 people injured.
The Chongqing government's statement said rioters threw stones at officers and damaged police vehicles.
'There are no casualties. Some police and members of the public received minor injuries during the clash,' it said.
But local residents said at least two were killed, including one secondary schoolboy and an elderly woman.
The riot came with the south-western municipality still reeling from the scandal of its former party boss, Bo, who was expelled on Tuesday from the Politburo and the Central Committee of the Communist Party for serious violations of party discipline.
Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, is being investigated over the death of Briton Neil Heywood.
Although the protest was not specifically about Bo, the merger that sparked the riot was part of the so-called Chongqing development model championed by Bo, who advocated equal growth between urban and rural areas.
Neither Chongqing officials nor local officials in the district could be reached for comment yesterday.
Meanwhile, yesterday's front-page commentary in the Chongqing Daily said the decision to put Bo under investigation was supported by Chongqing's 33 million citizens.
Official data showed that the GDP of the municipality stood at about 1 trillion yuan last year, marking a 16.4 per cent growth from that of 2010. But yesterday's commentary stressed Bo's behaviour had severely violated party's discipline.
Zhan Jiang, a communications professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said the sharp criticism by the Chongqing Daily was intended to calm Bo's supporters in the city.
'By saying that Bo has damaged Chongqing's development, the article conveys a message that the remarkable economic achievements of Chongqing are only superficial, and that there are a lot of problems in the city that have been ignored,' Zhan said.