June 20, 2009 / 9:05 AM / 10 years ago

Residents in central China protest over death

BEIJING, June 20 (Reuters) - Police in central China’s Hubei province have been called in to quash protests over the mysterious death of a man in a government-owned hotel, eyewitnesses told Reuters on Saturday.

"There are still a lot of armed police around," a local resident surnamed Chen told Reuters. "But they haven’t convinced (the protestors) to go home yet."

On June 17, Xu Yuangao, a 24-year-old chef, was found dead at the Yonglong Hotel in the city of Shishou, and while the police say they found a suicide note, Xu’s family continue to allege foul play.

Another resident said that local people were suspicious because of another incident that took place at the hotel several years ago.

"Yonglong Hotel doesn’t have a good reputation because of its connections with the government and the death of a girl there a few years ago," she said.

She added that "around 10,000 people" have taken part in the protests, most of them local farmers angered by the way the case has been handled.

According to a short statement posted on the website of the Shishou city government, the police have kept in touch with Xu’s family to arrange an autopsy and confirm the cause of death, but the family refused.

"A large number of uninformed people set up a roadblock at East Yueshan Road and Oriental Avenue in Shishou, disrupting traffic and creating a disturbance," the statement said.

Chinese sociologists have described the spate of riots and protests in the country’s deprived hinterlands as "anger-venting social incidents" brought about by years of hardship and inequality.

Last year, the death of a 16-year-old girl in southwest China’s Guizhou province led to riots involving 30,000 local residents, fired up by rumours that the girl had been raped and murdered. (Reporting by Beijing newsroom; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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