Image: Chinese paramilitary police
Andy Wong  /  AP
Chinese paramilitary police officers patrol in Weng'an county of Guizhou province on Monday after authorities detained hundreds of people suspected of setting fire to police and government buildings.
updated 6/30/2008 5:26:43 PM ET 2008-06-30T21:26:43

Paramilitary police swarmed the streets of this town in southwest China on Monday and detained hundreds of people for allegedly torching police and government buildings in an outburst of public anger over the suspected police cover-up of a teenage girl's death.

Official vehicles roved the town with loudspeakers blaring recorded appeals for rioters to turn themselves in as squads of paramilitary police in riot helmets and wielding batons patrolled the streets. Television stations also broadcast warnings to surrender, residents said.

Police stood guard on corners and still hundreds more stood by in alleys and side streets.

Authorities rounded up 300 people accused of taking part in Saturday's riot, a Hong Kong-based human rights organization said.

The unrest is unsettling for government
The unrest is especially sensitive for China ahead of the Beijing Olympics in August.

Citizens venting anger over official corruption, land confiscation and a growing gap between the rich and poor have been a thorn in the side of the Communist leadership in recent years, and top leaders have called for a focus on building a "harmonious society."

The unrest in Weng'an, a town in hilly Guizhou province, stemmed from the death of a high school student, whom Internet chat sites said was raped and murdered. Her body was pulled from a river June 22, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Investigators questioned three young men — two of whom may be related to local police officials — but let them go, the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said.

As many as 30,000 people rioted Saturday because they were angry about a police report that said the girl drowned, Xinhua reported. One person carried a banner with the message "Return justice to the people," it said.

Police used tear gas to disperse the crowd, and the violence injured 20 police and 30 protesters, Xinhua said.

The crowd left 20 charred vehicles scattered in the yard of the county government compound and burned parts of the Weng'an Communist Party committee building.

A preliminary investigation found no links between children of local officials and the girl's death, Xinhua cited vice county chief Xiao Song as saying.

Further investigations not complete
Liu Zhongmin, a teacher at the No. 3 Middle School in Weng'an County, where the girl studied, said further investigations by higher level medical experts and authorities are not complete. But residents feared they will also blame drowning in the death, he said.

"The girl's teacher is now explaining the whole situation to her fellow students, trying to keep them calm," he said.

Though shops were open, the announcements and heavy police presence lent a tense undercurrent to Weng'an — set in a valley of terraced rice and vegetable fields about three hours from the provincial capital of Guiyang.

The girl's landlord told Xinhua the girl's uncle recently had several confrontations with police, and was beaten by unidentified men in the street. The report did not specify whether the confrontations took place before or after the girl's death.

The uncle was hospitalized last week in a county hospital, but has since been transferred elsewhere, Xinhua said.

Telephones were not answered at the Weng'an public security bureau and county government office. A male employee at Qiannan prefecture's public security bureau, which oversees Weng'an, said the investigation into the student's death was continuing. Like many Chinese officials, he refused to give his name or position.

Xinhua said the provincial government has set up a work team involving 10 criminal investigators and forensic experts to reinvestigate the death.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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