China to sack officials who mishandle protests

BEIJING Mon Jul 13, 2009 1:24am EDT

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BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese officials who mishandle protests could be removed from their posts, state media said Monday, a week after demonstrations in the capital of Xinjiang degenerated into ethnic attacks.

New regulations on accountability issued over the weekend hold officials responsible if misconduct leads to serious accidents, group protests or other serious incidents, state news agency Xinhua reported.

Penalties range from a public apology to suspension, forced resignation and dismissal.

While the rules appear designed to improve officials' performance, they could have the unintended consequence of encouraging officials to try to cover up any incidents, analysts said.

Aiming to curb corruption and improve government competence, the rules call for more severe punishment for attempted cover-ups by officials during investigations, the People's Daily said.

"Mass incidents" involving protests of more than five people numbered over 80,000 across China in 2007. Most stemmed from land seizure, judicial unfairness, pollution and other accidents, but initial efforts to suppress petitioners can inflame grievances.

Protests against attacks on Uighur workers in south China turned into an anti-Chinese riot in Urumqi, capital of the frontier region of Xinjiang, on July 5.

The death toll reached 184, including 137 Han Chinese and 46 Uighurs, and the city is still under tight security.

Sometimes seemingly random events in areas with pent-up anger at the government can trigger mass incidents, as in a clash last month between thousands of Chinese and armed police in the Hubei city of Shishou, following the mysterious death of a chef.

(Reporting by Liu Zhen and Lucy Hornby; Editing by Benjamin Kang Lim)

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