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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Chinese police snuff out planned Arab-inspired protests

 BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Police dispersed scores of people who gathered in central Beijing on Sunday after calls spread online across China urging pro-democracy gatherings inspired by protest rallies across the Middle East.

In the end, the small gatherings in Beijing and Shanghai turned out to be demonstrations of the Chinese authorities' determination to snuff out even tepid challenges to Communist Party power.

On Beijing's Wangfujing shopping street, about 100 people stood in front of a McDonald's restaurant, slated to be the site of the protests, according to an Internet message that spread on Saturday urging gatherings in 13 cities.

"I'm trying to do something for my country, to show my power," said a young university student in Beijing, when asked why he turned up outside McDonald's.

The crowd, including quite a few curious onlookers, was confronted by police officers who pushed them away, shouting "move off, move off, don't look anymore." No one was arrested. One man said he got into a scuffle with the police after he picked up some flowers from the ground.

"I had just been visiting the Forbidden City as a tourist and I passed by here and then these people took me away," said the man, who was wearing a grey coat, black cap and black glasses.

"Why would they take me away? I was just a passer-by," said the man, who declined to be named. "What democracy is there?"