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Thousands Riot in China in Year Marred by Rising Civil Violence

Thousands of workers in southern China have clashed with police in riots that left several dead and scores injured. State media say the violence in Guangdong province erupted after security forces Saturday beat a 15-year-old boy to death for allegedly stealing a bicycle.

Other news reports suggest the beating victim may have been involved in a traffic accident.

Regardless of the cause, all the reports confirm that several people were killed and a least one hundred injured in subsequent riots. According to the different reports, between 1,000 and 50,000 people joined the mob.

Government authorities acknowledge there has been a rise in civil disturbances across the Chinese interior.

Thomas Bernstein, an expert in Chinese politics at New York's Columbia University, says the violence reflects the mounting anger and frustration of the country's rural poor. "The recent outbreaks suggest an escalation - in terms of crowds and force used to quell these outbreaks," he said. "There is a kind of development which I am sure is of concern to the regime."

A recent World Bank survey indicates Communist-run China is one of the world's most unequal countries.

Some urban populations are profiting from tremendous economic growth but the nation's farmers are being left behind. The gap between rich and poor is growing larger and resentment is on the rise.

Riots and violent demonstrations are now almost commonplace throughout rural China.

In 2003, the Chinese magazine Outlook estimated there were nearly 60,000 local disturbances involving more than three million people.

Mr. Bernstein says many of the protests focus on corrupt local governments, which impose illegal taxes.

"These protests are not against the regime as such," he added. "They are against local officials who abuse power or distort policy as the locals see it to their disadvantage."

But some local authorities say Beijing must share the blame.

The central government has approved a series of new social programs for the rural poor but has not given local officials additional funding to pay for them.