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Petitioners flung handbills from Beijing hotel

world Updated: May 04, 2009 15:05 IST

Protesters seeking redress for a litany of grievances strung banners from a Beijing hotel and flung handbills off its roof Monday in hopes of winning media attention.

The brief protest is the latest in a series of increasingly dramatic organized events aimed at drawing foreign news coverage. About a dozen police officers were on hand to watch the roughly 20 protesters, but no arrests were apparently made.

Cai Zhiguo, a 51-year-old businessman who says officials cheated him out of legitimate profits, said Monday's action was timed to coincide with the 90th anniversary of the May Fourth protest movement, which set the stage for the communist revolution that followed three decades later.

"Ninety years ago, the May 4 movement brought great progress to the Chinese people. Our problems haven't been solved, so we have to take such measures," Cai said.

Petitioners, mostly from China's vast, impoverished countryside, routinely flock to Beijing by the thousands to air complaints after their local governments ignore them.

The system has its roots in China's imperial past, when people petitioned the emperor. It survived after the Communists took power with "letters and visits" to offices at every level of government to handle grievances. The system is considered overwhelmed and inefficient and a very small percentage of cases, mostly nonpayment of wages, are ever resolved.

In recent years, petitioners' actions have expanded to include leaflet drops and banner-hanging, the blocking of traffic, and dayslong protests outside a university where a professor said most petitioners were mentally ill and should be locked away.

China's entirely state controlled media usually ignores their protests. Complaints on banners displayed Monday ranged from allegations of corruption to the use of fake medication in hospitals.

Protesters chanted "return my human rights" and "down with corrupt officials" before flinging handbills that detailed personal grievances at passing buses and cars. One woman protester threw herself to the ground and lay their moaning while police directed traffic around here.

"We were too soft before, but now we're standing up for our rights," said Wu Xiuling, from the port of Tianjin near Beijing. "We want to use the foreign media to tell the world."