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China floods Beijing with security before planned protest

By Jo Ling Kent, CNN
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Beijing security detains journalists
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Premier Wen Jiaobo holds a web chat but does not mention the protests
  • Uniformed police are joined by plainclothes officers, vehicles and street cleaners
  • Organizers try tactics to promote pro-democracy protests
  • The first round flopped last weekend

Beijing (CNN) -- For the second weekend in a row, anonymous calls by organizers for a pro-democracy demonstration in Beijing were overshadowed by heavy security presence.

Hundreds of Chinese police officers along with more than 120 vehicles flooded Beijing's central pedestrian shopping area, Wangfujing, around the site of a second attempted "jasmine" rally inspired by pro-democracy protests in Tunisia.

There was no sign of protest as the police deployed unusual tactics to prevent demonstrations.

At least three foreign press photographers at the scene were reportedly beaten by police officers and detained. Other foreign journalists, including CNN, were manhandled, detained and escorted away from the site.

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At Beijing's Wangfujing shopping area, a large number of plainclothes and uniformed police officers circulated the area, which is typically known for being an open area attracting throngs of domestic and foreign tourists. Every entrance to the shopping area was guarded by multiple police officers on Sunday.

CNN crew detained by Beijing police

In front of a McDonald's restaurant, the appointed meeting place for demonstrators, a large construction site was erected several days ago following the first attempted demonstrations, directly blocking the open plaza outside the restaurant.

Nearby, a mysteriously large group of orange-clad street sweepers stood near the appointed protest area with brooms but did not sweep the street.

When protests were slated to begin, two large street-washing trucks began slowly driving through the main thoroughfare, blocking pedestrian traffic and spraying water. Plainclothes police sat in restaurants and storefront windows for hours, observing the surroundings, while uniformed police officers forced journalists and onlookers out of the vicinity.

In Hong Kong, approximately 25 concerned citizens who organized on Facebook gathered in the city center and carried placards and wore jasmine flower pins.

They gathered in front of the Golden Bauhinia, a statue of Hong Kong's official flower. It is a major tourist destination, especially for mainland Chinese tours.

Placards read, "Freedom and Democracy. End One Party Rule. Push for Political Reform."

One Hong Kong demonstrator, Lam Ng, called for the end of single-party governance. "I don't agree with the Chinese government," he said. "I don't like the corruption."

Meanwhile on Sunday morning, just hours before the demonstration was slated to begin, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao participated in his third annual web chat with selected Internet users on Sunday, ahead of China's annual central leadership meeting and legislative session.

Among the 25,000 questions submitted were concerns for social stability. He presented several strategies to maintain calm including reducing the urban-rural income gap, increased benefits and opportunities for rural citizens, and eliminating corruption.

"I always say we should not only make the cake of social wealth as big as possible, but also distribute the cake in a fair way and let everyone enjoy the fruits of reform and opening up," Wen said Sunday morning.

He did not comment on the protests planned for last week or Sunday.

Efforts to organize an earlier protest on February 20 were deemed largely unsuccessful after casual observers and police outnumbered the few protesters that showed up for the demonstrations.

On Friday, anonymous instructions on a site on Facebook, which is blocked in China, encouraged people to show up at central locations in about two dozen major Chinese cities and "go for a walk" together on Sunday. Along with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube continue to be blocked, making calls for action available only to those outside mainland China or to Chinese who have access to virtual private networks with foreign IP addresses.

Meanwhile, LinkedIn, one of the last social networking sites allowed in the country, was temporarily blocked in China on Friday as the government ramped up internet censorship.

This time around, organizers tried to mask the events as "liang hui" -- a Mandarin term which commonly refers to meetings held each March by China's political leadership. The cleverly selected terminology is an attempt by protest organizers to circumvent censorship on popular microblogs in the lead-up to actual meetings held by the National People's Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

Words such as "jasmine" in Chinese and "Wangfujing" -- the famous Beijing shopping strip where Sunday's demonstrations are set to begin -- were not searchable on China's most popular microblog, Sina Weibo, on Friday. The Chinese name of U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr. -- who showed up at last Sunday's "jasmine" protest in Beijing -- are also blocked.

When searching the terms, users see a message that states: "According to relevant laws and policies, search results cannot be shown."

Huntsman, wearing a black leather jacked with a patch of the American flag on his left shoulder, was captured at last week's protest in a widely viewed video posted on YouTube, in which he's called out by some in the crowd. One asks if he is "hoping China will become chaotic?" -- a reference to the unrest that has consumed several countries in Africa and the Middle East as protesters there demand democracy.

Speaking in Mandarin, Huntsman tells them that he "just came to have a look." The hecklers accuse him of pretending to not know about the protest and feigning ignorance.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Richard Buangan said Huntsman came upon the protests when he was passing through the area with his wife, two of his children and his son-in-law.

"Last Saturday, (members of) the Huntsman family were on their way to visit a Tiananmen Square museum, passing through Wangfujing Shopping district. The Huntsmans walking through Wangfujing, and the events that took place related to any so-called protests, were purely coincidental. Once the family realized a security-related situation was developing, they immediately left," Buangan said.

CNN's Jaime Florcruz and Licia Yee contributed to this report.

 
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