SHANGHAI (AP) — Large numbers of police — and new tactics like shrill whistles and street cleaning trucks — squelched overt protests in China for a second Sunday in a row after calls for peaceful gatherings modeled on recent democratic movements in the Middle East.
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At one end of Shanghai's People's Square, uniformed police blew whistles nonstop and shouted at people to keep moving, though about 200 people — a combination of onlookers and quiet sympathizers — braved the noise. In Beijing, trucks normally used to water the streets drove repeatedly up the busy commercial shopping district spraying water and keeping crowds pressed to the edges.
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Foreign journalists met with tighter police controls. In Shanghai, authorities called foreign reporters Sunday warning them to stay away from the protest sites, while police in Beijing followed some reporters and blocked those with cameras from entering the Wangfujing shopping street where protests were called for.
Police also detained several Chinese, at least two in Beijing and four in Shanghai, putting them into vans and driving them away, though officials did not give a reason.
The more heated response compared with last week shows how the mysterious calls for protest have left the authoritarian government on edge. Unlike Egypt and Tunisia where popular frustrations with economic malaise added fuel to popular protests to oust autocratic leaders, China has a booming economy and rising living standards. Still, the leadership is battling inflation and worries that democratic movements could take root if unchallenged.
"Rapid inflation affects people's livelihoods and may affect social stability," Premier Wen Jiabao said in an online chat Sunday. He later added: "I know the impact that prices can cause a country and am deeply aware of its extreme importance."
The initial online call for protest that first circulated on an overseas Chinese news website 10 days ago called for Chinese to imitate the "Jasmine Revolution" that started in Tunisia, urging them to gather peacefully at sites in 13 cities. A renewed call earlier this week expanded the target cities to 27.
While the origins of the calls are not known, police have questioned, placed under house arrest and detained more than 100 people. At least five have been detained on subversion or national security charges, in some cases for passing on information about the protest calls.