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Amid small bank crisis, China violently quells protests

Chinese authorities on Sunday violently dispersed a peaceful protest by hundreds of Chinese, who sought in vain to demand back their deposits from banks facing a deepening cash crisis.

Since April, four rural banks in central China’s Henan province have frozen millions of dollars in deposits, threatening the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of customers in an economy already battered by draconian lockdowns from the pandemic.

Distressed Chinese have staged several demonstrations in the city of Zhengzhou, capital of Henan province, in the past two months, but their demands have invariably fallen on deaf ears.

On Sunday, more than 1,000 customers from across China gathered outside the Zhengzhou branch of the country’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China, to launch its biggest protest yet, more than half a dozen protesters told the CNN .

The demonstration is among the biggest in China since the start of the pandemic, with domestic travel limited by various restrictions due to Covid-19. Last month, authorities in Zhengzhou even resorted to tampering with the Covid-related digital health code system to curb customer demonstrations.

This time, most of the protesters arrived outside the bank before dawn – some at 4 am – to avoid the blockade by the authorities. The crowd, which includes the elderly and children, took up a flight of stairs outside the bank, chanting slogans and holding banners.

“Henan Banks, return my savings!” they shouted in unison, many waving Chinese flags, in videos shared with the CNN by two protesters.

Using national flags to display patriotism is a common strategy for protesters in China, where dissent is strictly repressed. The tactic aims to show that their grievances are only against local governments and that they support and trust the central government to seek redress.

“Against the corruption and violence of the Henan government,” read a banner written in English. A large portrait of the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong was pasted on a pillar at the entrance to the bank.

Across the street, hundreds of police and security guards – some in uniform and others in plainclothes – gathered and surrounded the venue as protesters shouted “gangsters” at them.

violent repression

The demonstration lasted several hours, until rows of security guards suddenly climbed the stairs and clashed with the protesters, who threw bottles and other small objects at them.

The scene quickly turned to chaos as security guards dragged protesters down the stairs and beat up those who resisted, including women and the elderly, according to witnesses and videos on social media.

A woman from the eastern province of Shandong told CNN who was pushed to the ground by two security guards, who injured her arm. A 27-year-old man from the southern city of Shenzhen said he was kicked by seven or eight guards to the ground before being taken away. A 45-year-old man from the central city of Wuhan said his shirt was completely ripped during the altercation.

Many said they were shocked by the sudden outburst of violence by the security forces. “I didn’t expect them to be so violent and shameless this time around. There was no communication, no warning before we were brutally dispersed,” said a customer who had previously protested in Zhengzhou.

“Why did government officials beat us? We are just ordinary people asking for our deposits back, we have done nothing wrong,” said the Shandong woman.

Protesters were loaded onto dozens of buses and sent to makeshift detention sites across the city – from hotels to schools and factories, according to witnesses. Some wounded were escorted to hospitals; many were released from detention later in the afternoon, they said.

THE CNN contacted the Henan provincial government but received no response. The Zhengzhou Commercial District Police Station – which has jurisdiction over the protest site – hung up on the CNN requesting comments.

On Sunday night, Henan’s banking regulator issued a terse statement, saying that “relevant departments” were accelerating efforts to verify customer fund information at the four rural banks.

“(Authorities) are presenting a plan to address the issue, which will be announced shortly,” the statement said.

Police in Xuchang, a city neighboring Zhengzhou, said in a statement that they had recently arrested members of an alleged “criminal gang” accused of effectively taking control of rural Henan banks from 2011 – leveraging their holdings and “manipulating business executives.” banks.”

The suspects were also accused of illegally transferring funds through fictitious loans, police said, adding that some of their funds and assets were seized and frozen.

shattered lives

The protest comes at a politically sensitive time for the Communist Party, just months before its leader Xi Jinping seeks an unprecedented third term at a key meeting in a few months’ time.

Large-scale demonstrations over lost economies and ruined livelihoods could be perceived as a political embarrassment for Xi, who promotes a nationalist vision of leading the country towards a “great rejuvenation”.

Henan authorities are under enormous pressure to stop the protests. But customers remain relentless. As the issue drags on, many are increasingly desperate to get their savings back.

Huang, the depositor from Wuhan, lost his job in the medical cosmetology industry this year as companies struggled in the pandemic. However, he is unable to withdraw any of his life savings – of more than 500,000 yuan ($75,000) – from a rural bank in Henan.

“Being unemployed, all I can live on is my past savings. But I can’t even do that now – how am I going to (support my family)?” said Huang, whose son is in high school.

Sun, from Shenzhen, is struggling to keep his machinery factory out of bankruptcy after losing his 4 million yuan ($597,000) deposit to a Henan bank. He can’t even pay his 40+ employees without the funds.

Sun said he was covered in bruises and had a swollen lower back after being repeatedly trampled by security guards at the protest. “The incident completely overturned my perception of the government. I’ve lived my whole life putting so much faith in the government. After today, I will never trust him again,” he said.

Source: CNN Brasil

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