January 30, 2001

Chinese Officials Order Cities to Bolster Riot Police Forces


BEIJING, Jan. 29 The Chinese authorities, facing constant protests by aggrieved workers and farmers and a prospect of unending defiance by die-hard Falun Gong believers, have ordered cities across the country to augment their anti-riot police.

Reflecting the leadership's obsession with "social stability," which has reached a new pitch as China seeks to be awarded the 2008 Olympic Games, the Ministry of Public Security has ordered "intensive efforts" to build up anti-riot squads and said they are "expected to play key roles in handling group violence and terrorism cases."

Large municipalities like Beijing and Shanghai must establish anti- riot units with at least 300 members, other provincial capitals must have specialized units of at least 200 and other cities must also develop forces in keeping with their needs, according to the report by the New China News Agency.

The country has already created a one-million-member People's Armed Police, a paramilitary force with training in crowd control, as the primary bulwark against unruly demonstrations, and further growth in these forces is expected as well. Units of the armed police, sometimes using tear gas and occasionally using live ammunition, are frequently used to disperse irate crowds of unpaid workers or complaining farmers. Large numbers of the troops are also stationed in restive Tibet and in the western region of Xinjiang, to help fight a separatist movement of Uighur Muslims.

China's leaders were privately embarrassed in 1989, when poorly prepared police were overwhelmed by swelling pro-democracy demonstrations. The authorities finally used army combat troops to clear the streets of Beijing, resulting in hundreds of deaths from often-indiscriminate fire and bringing worldwide condemnation.

Since then, officials have bolstered the numbers, training and equipment of the People's Armed Police, in hopes that they can handle incidents with more skill and less deadly force.

Ordinary police forces, which also carry weapons, were also supposed to improve their crowd-control capacities after 1989, but the announcement this weekend indicates that progress has been limited. "If the anti-riot police are not competent and lack necessary training and equipment," an official from the ministry of public security was quoted as saying, they will be "hardly capable of maintaining social peace and stability."

One reason for building up riot units inside of urban police forces may be to give the local police the ability to respond more quickly to a developing disturbance, said Murray Scot Tanner, an expert on Chinese law enforcement at Western Michigan University

Many outside experts believe that the People's Armed Police which were expanded in part by incorporating unneeded units of the army have never received enough money and specialized equipment to become a uniformly adept riot-control force, able to handle extreme situations without bloodshed.

Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company

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