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China quake victims clash with police: rights group

by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Feb 20, 2009
More than 2,000 victims of last year's massive earthquake in China clashed with police over alleged misuse of reconstruction funds and the death of a protester in custody, a rights group said Friday.

The violence occurred Wednesday and Thursday in the town of Baolin in Sichuan province, an area hit hard by the May 12 quake, the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said in a statement.

A government official in Baolin confirmed to AFP by phone that the clashes took place and that one person had died, but gave no other details other than to insist the death was not related to the conflict.

The rights group said a crowd of local villagers gathered to protest in Baolin on Wednesday after finding out that government money they were supposed to receive to help repair their homes had been used instead to fix roads.

Three people were detained after police moved in to break up the crowd, said the group, which regularly issues information about incidents of unrest in China that go unreported by the country's official media.

One person who was among those detained "suddenly" died at a police station, it added, giving no other details on the individual.

"There was a conflict between police and people in Baolin township," an official with the local government told AFP by phone, confirming that one person had died.

The official, who declined to be named, added that "the dead villager was not connected to the conflict", but he declined further comment.

News of the death caused a crowd of more than 2,000 to gather, surrounding a police station and overturning a police car, the rights group said.

On Thursday, police reinforcements moved in, beating protesters and injuring 10 people, two of whom were hospitalised, it added.

About 1,000 police and paramilitary forces were maintaining tight security in the area, the group said.

Numerous reports of misused earthquake funds have surfaced in the aftermath of the disaster, which left 87,000 dead or missing.

The head of the National Audit Office, Liu Jiayi, vowed Wednesday that any misuse of reconstruction funds would be "struck hard", although he said there had been no major problems detected.

China sees thousands of public protests by marginalised members of society every year, often triggered by allegations of official corruption.

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