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'Jasmine' protests in China fall flat

By Jaime FlorCruz, CNN
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'Jasmine' protests fizzle in China
  • Police appeared in Beijing's Wangfujing district at designated time of protest
  • A protest in Hong Kong lasted an hour
  • Search functions for "jasmine" and "Egypt" blocked on some Chinese websites
  • The actions suggest Beijing's wariness for similar calls for change

Beijing, China (CNN) -- If organizers planned big protests in China to echo those in the Mideast and North Africa, they failed.

On Saturday microbloggers passed around tweets calling for protests at 2 p.m. (0600 GMT) Sunday in a dozen major Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. But no specific place was cited until several hours beforehand.

In Beijing, the place was supposed to be in Wangfujing, a typically busy shopping street less than a kilometer from Tiananmen Square.

Wangfujing may have been a perfect place to trigger a mass action. The four-lane street is a designated pedestrian street, with thousands of people walking there at any given business hour; no cars and buses are allowed. For decades it has been a favorite shopping district, especially for out-of-town Chinese and foreign tourists. (Locals prefer to shop elsewhere.)

At around 2:15 p.m., according to CNN's Tomas Etzler, who saw the scene, a large presence of police -- uniformed and in plain clothes -- mingled with a gaggle of foreign journalists and scores of people carrying digital cameras. Soon they gathered a group of onlookers from the usual traffic of shoppers and tourists.

Around this time, a young man started arguing with the police.

It is not clear whether the event was related to the planned protest or "performance art."

Most of the crowd dispersed after an hour.

Security officials exercised restraint in handling the scene, Etzler said.

Around Tiananmen Square and Zhongnanhai, the seat of China's government, there was significantly more -- but not massive -- security presence. Tourist traffic on Tiananmen Square appeared normal, with a couple Chinese tourists seen taking pictures in front of the Zhongnanhai front gate, watched by half a dozen police officers.

In Hong Kong, at the same hour, police outnumbered 30 demonstrators outside the gates of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government. Leung Kwok Hung, a lawmaker nicknamed "Long Hair," told the tiny crowd that the demonstration was the first in Hong Kong in support of China's "Jasmine Revolution" and would not be the last.

He led the group in chanting slogans against the Chinese Communist Party and the crackdown on activists, including lawyers and human rights advocates, in the mainland.

Afterwards, some in the crowd made paper airplanes of their signs, which featured jasmine flowers, and threw them and paper funeral money over the fence onto the grounds of the liaison office. A security officer responded by loudspeaker, saying that if the protesters did not stop, he would file an official complaint.

The protest ended after an hour, all in all a nonevent.

Even though these attempts to initiate protests showed little traction, they have apparently made Chinese authorities more nervous.

A day before the planned protests, police reportedly detained scores of people, including lawyers and human rights advocates, in Beijing and other major cities.

Beijing has appeared to step up the filtering and control of the internet since the outbreak of protests in the Arab world. Search functions for words like "jasmine" and "Egypt" are blocked on certain sites like Sina Weibo and Renren, a clone of Facebook, suggesting the leadership's wariness for similar calls for change.

Read about how microbloggers deal with 'Great Firewall' challenges

Twitter, Facebook and You Tube are regularly blocked in China, even though savvier internet users could overcome the firewall with a VPN, or virtual private network. The popular Sina Weibo microblogging service is erratic, with retweeting and the posting of photos blocked.

CNN's Tim Schwarz contributed to this report.