POLICE have smashed 781 gangs, including triads, in a crackdown on hardcore crime in Beijing, Shanghai and Hubei province. The semi-official China News Service (CNS) reported last night it was part of a ''winter offensive to crack major cases and nab runaway criminals''. It is understood a sizeable number of the smashed gangs were triads, some of which had connections with the underworld in Hong Kong, Taiwan and overseas. Quoting figures provided by the Ministry of Public Security for Beijing, Shanghai and Hubei, CNS said police had since the winter cracked 7,638 cases, arrested 6,472 criminals, and broken up 781 ''criminal groupings''. About 1.68 million yuan (HK$1.49 million) worth of loot was recovered. CNS said police departments concentrated their firepower on triads as well as ''evil forces in remote areas''. The latter is a reference to inaccessible districts and counties, many of which are reported to have fallen under the influence of clans and secret societies. For example, police in Qiqihar, Heilongjiang province, recently detained Yin Tongxi and Zhang Haiying, allegedly ringleaders of a gang ''of a triad nature''. Moreover, CNS reported that public security departments in various places deployed a large number of officers against cases ''which have aroused the anger of the masses''. The news agency cited a case of murder and the chopping up of the corpse, which took place in the mining district of Datong in Shanxi province last October. The culprits were arrested after more than 200 policemen had staged a 12-day ''fierce battle''. Also arrested were Liu Wei and Su Kai, who headed a gang in Harbin, Heilongjiang, that was responsible for the rape of more than 10 students. CNS reported that police had in the past few months paid special attention to mobilising the masses in a joint anti-crime effort. In the past two months, different Communist Party and central Government units held national meetings on fighting crime and preserving social stability. Sources close to the security establishment said Beijing was worried about the rapid growth of triads and related gangs, which seemed to have no difficulty recruiting large numbers of youths. In internal party documents, senior security officials admitted the party had virtually lost control of a number of counties in remote or hilly regions. The sources said if nearly 800 gangs were smashed in three places in a few months, the total number of criminal organisations nationwide could be much more than Chinese or Western security experts had estimated.