Chinese police beef up street patrols

March 7, 2011 at 6:30 AM
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BEIJING, March 7 (UPI) -- Chinese security forces increased their presence on Beijing streets amid a third week of calls over the Internet for pro-democracy protests and demonstrations.

No demonstrations have materialized but police and state security apparatus beefed up their presence in the streets across many parts of Beijing.

Some of the notices posted on the Internet called for people to go into the street and walk about but without talking as a peaceful protest.

Increased numbers of police, many with cellphones and ear pieces, were seen on street corners and walking among crowds in an attempt to forestall any Middle East-style protests, such as those that have engulfed Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.

Chinese police were alert to reporters among the crowds and stopped many from interviewing people and filming street scenes, the BBC said. Cellphone signals were blocked in some parts of Beijing.

Last week, the BBC said that while its reporters were complying with police requests to show official press documents, there were allegedly beaten by plainclothes security men, who eventually were helped by the regular police.

"The police officers even helped them as I was dragged by the hair, shoved against the side of a police van, then slammed to the floor," a BBC reporter said. "Deliberately they crushed my leg in the vehicle's door."

A higher police presence on the streets is part of the ongoing love-hate relationship Chinese authorities have with the Internet access and use. On one hand, the Chinese government fears the Internet will act as a fast, efficient vehicle for spreading calls for people to demonstrate for more democracy. Security forces might be overwhelmed, as has happened in North Africa.

In June 2009, Beijing city authorities sent out a call for thousands of volunteers to monitor Internet use and content and report the information. Volunteers also are placed in Internet cafes to stop minors from entering and also to monitor content access.

The decision was forced upon authorities, the city said, because of access to lewd content or pornography. "The aim is to shield the minors from unwanted harm they might be subjected to on the Internet," a city official said at the time.

By extension, more than 300,000 government employees perform "community service management," such as monitoring the Internet for dissent, a report by Xinhua said.

But while fearing the Internet, Chinese authorities also understand its economic importance to country's economic prosperity and that of the population in general -- China has around 450 million Internet users, the State Council Information Office said in December. Internet access has the potential to act as a catalyst to improve their daily lives by enhancing business opportunities -- a main theme of last weekend's annual National People's Congress.

"We must make improving the people's lives a pivot linking reform, development and stability ... and make sure people are content with their lives and jobs, society is tranquil and orderly and the country enjoys long-term peace and stability," Premier Wen Jiabao said.

Even as China cracks down on Internet use, the government is eager to get a slice of the business pie. Late last month, China Mobile, one of the world's biggest cellphone operators, and the Chinese government-run Xinhua News Agency announced a project to launch an Internet search engine.

The plan was announced by Xinhua, saying the search engine would be called and compete head on with Baidu, the most used search engine in China. Private firm Baidu has around 63 percent of the market share, research by iResearch shows.

Baidu was founded in the 1990s by Robin Li, 43 and a Beijing University graduate. He later attended graduate school at the State University of New York at Buffalo and worked at Dow Jones subsidiary IDD in New Jersey.

Other popular search engines in China include Google Hong Kong, Yahoo! China, Microsoft's Bing, Sina, Sohu's Sogou and Xunlei's Gougou.

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