Beijing protesters attempt bold march on city heart

Thu Mar 19, 2009 5:48am EDT
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By Emma Graham-Harrison

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese police on Thursday rounded up several dozen evicted home owners who planned to make a bold protest march to the nerve-center of the country's communist leadership.

The motley group of around 70 Beijingers, mostly elderly and middle aged, offered no challenge to well-prepared security forces who swept down before they had even set off, Reuters witnesses said.

But as economic turmoil stokes discontent across the country, their audacious attempt to submit a letter directly to populist Premier Wen Jiabao is likely to alarm China's rulers.

The heavily guarded Zhongnanhai compound, a modern Forbidden City that has been home to generations of communist leaders, has long been a risky magnet to people with grievances.

One of the largest protests was by the now-banned Falun Gong group which marshaled over 10,000 followers in 1999.

Their dramatic sit-in unnerved a government obsessed with stability. Beijing soon outlawed Falun Gong, labeled it an evil cult, and cracked down on anyone who refused to renounce it.

Han Xiaofeng, an unemployed 47 year-old who helped plan Thursday's protest, told Reuters he was not afraid.

The group says they were cheated of their homes by corrupt officials who said the land was needed for the Beijing Olympic Games, but then used it to build a luxury housing complex.   Continued...