China calls for ‘Jasmine Rallies’ in the wake of Middle East protests

People in 13 Chinese cities have been urged by an online appeal to rally every Sunday to demand for government transparency and free expression, following a call last week for Middle East-style protests.

The new call, posted this week on the overseas-based website, appeared to be from the same group behind a mysterious web campaign for protests last Sunday echoing those that have rocked the Arab world.

That earlier call to action sparked a heavy police turnout at designated protests sites in Beijing and at least a dozen other cities. They appeared lightly attended, however, and free of major incident.

“What we need to do now is to put pressure on the Chinese ruling (Communist) party,” said the renewed appeal.

“If the party does not conscientiously fight corruption and accept the supervision of the people, then will it please exit the stage of history.”

In an apparent attempt to make a statement without falling foul of China’s security forces, participants were urged not to take any overt action but encouraged to merely show up at what the letter called “strolling” protests.

“We invite every participant to stroll, watch, or even just pretend to pass by. As long as you are present, the authoritarian government will be shaking with fear,” it said.

China’s government has indicated growing unease over the wave of Middle East unrest, heavily censoring or blocking media reports and online discussion of the upheaval, which has toppled presidents in Tunisia and Egypt.

The call for “Jasmine Rallies” — a reference to Tunisia’s “Jasmine revolution” that sparked the turmoil spreading across the Middle East and North Africa — was labelled as an “open letter” to China’s rubber-stamp parliament.

The National People’s Congress opens its annual session on March 5th.

The open letter appeared to set the stage for a protracted but low-pressure bid to push authorities in Beijing for change, using the heavily policed internet and word-of-mouth to get the message out.

The letter echoed a number of the common threads seen in the Arab protests, including anger over government corruption, a lack of transparency and official accountability, and the stifling of internet and media freedoms.

“If the government is not sincere about solving the problems, but only wants to censor the internet and block information to suppress the protests, the protests will only get stronger,” it said.

A large police presence was seen at the gathering site in Beijing’s central Wangfujing shopping district on Sunday, but there were no overt demonstrations.

At least two people were seen being taken away by police, one for cursing at the authorities and another who was shouting: “I want food to eat.”

No mention of the new protest call could immediately be seen on China-based websites or blogs. — AFP



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