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Protest Mars China's National Day Celebration - 2003-10-01


China's National Day celebrations were marred Wednesday when a man set fire to himself on Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Police say the man was protesting after losing his job.

It happened only hours after thousands attended a flag-raising ceremony on Tiananmen Square marking the 54th anniversary of the establishment of the People's Republic of China.

Authorities say 49-year-old Yang Peiquan set himself on fire before police moved in to put out the flames. It was the latest in a string of incidents where people have gone to Tiananmen Square and other parts of Beijing and set themselves on fire. At least three cases in the past six weeks have had to do with financial problems linked in some way to China's rapid economic expansion.

On September 15, an impoverished farmer tried to burn himself in Tiananmen Square to protest the government's demolition of his home in Anhui province.

On September 25, a 35-year-old did the same in one of Beijing's suburbs. The man's relatives say he was protesting after authorities evicted him from his family's longtime home to make way for a new construction development.

His sister, who identified herself only as Ms. Wang, said the government has not compensated the family. She says, authorities have not helped her brother after taking away the family home. She said there are five in the family, and no money to buy another place to live.

The plight is a common one as China continues to experience spectacular economic growth, and especially as showcase construction projects go into high gear ahead of the 2008 Olympics.

Risking arrest, angry residents - most of them poor - have been staging protests almost every week in Beijing demanding that the government respect their property rights.

Since he took office in March, President Hu Jintao has vowed to address the issue as part of a campaign to battle the growing gap between China's new wealthy elite and the vast majority who are poor.

Political analysts say the topic will be on the agenda next week when President Hu and other top leaders of China's Communist party gather for their annual meeting in Beijing.

More demonstrations have been held ahead of the meeting, with busloads of people arriving in the capital to present their demands. The government has been allowing the peaceful demonstrations to go on in most cases, but protesters say they fear that could change at any moment.

On Tuesday, the U.S. based Human Rights in China group said police raided hotels in Beijing where out-of-town demonstrators were staying on the eve of National Day celebrations. Quoting witnesses, the group says agents arrested at least 85 people.

Police in Beijing say they have no information on the reported arrests.

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