China’s Foreign Ministry said some journalists at the site of a planned protest in Beijing on Feb. 27 had broken reporting rules, disrupting “normal order,” and that police “properly handled” the situation.
Several journalists said they were forcibly removed and detained without explanation as they tried to report from Wangfujing Street on protests called to demand an end to corruption and misrule. A Bloomberg News reporter was beaten by at least five plain-clothes men in front of uniformed police.
“Many media organizations haven’t encountered any trouble while reporting in China for many years,” said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu, during a 90-minute questioning by foreign journalists at a longer-than-usual biweekly briefing. “Why do some journalists always run into trouble? I find it strange. The journalists should really respect the laws and regulations.”
An open letter posted online called for people to carry out “jasmine” rallies, named after the uprising in Tunisia that has spread through the Middle East. While at least seven people were arrested in Shanghai’s People’s Square, there were no visible signs of protest in Beijing.
Hours earlier, Premier Wen Jiabao answered citizens’ questions on a two-hour online forum, vowing to hold down prices, create affordable housing and root out corruption. The root of corruption lies in a government that has too much unrestrained power, he said.
Wen also cut annual economic growth targets to 7.5 percent from 7 percent in the coming five years and said the government would focus on ensuring the benefits of expansion were more evenly distributed. While the country’s economy has expanded more than 90-fold in the past three decades, Wen said rising inequality threatens social stability.
Hundreds of uniformed police including paramilitary units, squads of dogs, and at least 100 vehicles, patrolled Wangfujing Street on Feb. 27. Three water trucks drove up and down the pedestrian-only thoroughfare, spraying water and soap on the road as police ushered crowds to the sidewalks.
U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman yesterday said illegal detention and harassment of foreign journalists in Beijing was “unacceptable and deeply disturbing.” The European Union’s delegation to China said it was “troubled” by accounts of physical intimidation or assault from journalists.
In Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama’s spokesman, Jay Carney, said the administration urges “the Chinese government to respect the rights of foreign journalists to report in China and urge public security authorities to protect the safety and well-being” of anyone subject to harassment or intimidation.
China relaxed reporting rules for foreign journalists before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, allowing reporters to travel anywhere except Tibet without permission. Today, Jiang said that camera crews needed prior permission to film in Wangfujing.
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