Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Special Security Units Assigned to Chinese Cities

The Chinese government has used the threat of international terrorism and the need to protect the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games as pretexts for a major buildup of security forces tasked with suppressing rural and urban unrest.

The new units are designed to bolster the combat readiness of the giant, SWAT-team-like special operations units of the million-strong paramilitary force known as the People's Armed Police.

Special security units have been established in nearly 40 cities, including Beijing and all provincial capitals.

A crack combat unit of at least 500 heavily armed officers has been assigned to especially volatile Zhengzhou, in central Henan province, where two major disturbances occurred in 2005. A violent confrontation over a land dispute injured about 30 people last August, and there were several fatalities during clashes between Han Chinese and Muslims last November. Police used shotguns and teargas--and declared martial law--to end the riots.

Shotguns are standard issue for elite units, along with assault and sniping rifles, silenced pistols, rocket propelled grenade launchers, lightweight body armor and even helicopters.

Beijing admitted to 87,000 uprisings and protests last year, most of them in rural areas.

Three years ago, the official number was 58,000 incidents, involving some three million people.

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