About 300 veteran military officers protested outside the Guangdong provincial government office yesterday, petitioning for recognition of their military service and better pension payments.
With the Asian Games only 45 days away, surveillance of petitioners and rights activists has been stepped up in Guangzhou.
The veterans, ranging in age from their 60s to their 80s, started gathering outside the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in Guangzhou's Yuexiu district yesterday morning. Calling for the sacrifices they made during the Korean war to be remembered and urging the authorities to implement a fairer pension policy, they wore red ribbons on their chests and raised a four-metre-long white banner.
It was the first large protest by military veterans outside the provincial government office in almost two years. In December 2008, about 100 retired military engineers also petitioned for improved pensions.
More than two dozen uniformed and plain-clothes police watched as they marched across the road to the provincial government office.
The protesters said their military service had not been sufficiently recognised. Their pensions were similar to or worse than those of ordinary laid-off workers in Guangzhou.
Huang Shaoduan , now 75, joined the army at the age of 15 and fought against the Kuomintang in Xishuangbanna , Yunnan province.
'We are going to meet the late Karl Marx as we don't have much longer to live, why is the government so cruel to us?' Huang said. 'The government has turned against us, forgetting what we have done and treating us like laid-off workers.'
She retired with the rank of major but her pension is just 2,600 yuan (HK$3,000) a month, about 500 yuan more than Guangzhou's minimum pension for the elderly.
Police failed in an attempt to stop the protesters raising their banner during the peaceful demonstration.
'We're so old that we all have heart problems and high blood pressure so don't you dare intimidate us,' one elderly woman protester said when an officer touched the banner she was holding.
Five representatives were allowed into the government office to lodge their petition.
A scuffle occurred when several veterans tried to grab one of the cameras held by three plain-clothes security officers posing as civilians. No one was injured.