BEIJING (AP) — Authorities rounded up dozens of dissidents and cracked down on calls for a "Jasmine Revolution," which urged demonstrations in more than a dozen Chinese cities Sunday apparently modeled after the wave of pro-democracy protests sweeping the Middle East.
The source of the call was not known and many activists seemed not to know what to make of it, even as they spread the word. They said they were unaware of any known group being involved in the request for citizens to gather in 13 cities and shout, "We want food, we want work, we want housing, we want fairness."
The authoritarian government, always on guard to squelch dissent, appeared to be taking the threat of protests seriously and moved to stamp out the spread of the message that first appeared on U.S.-based Chinese-language website Boxun.com.
More than 100 activists in cities across China were taken away by police, confined to their homes or were missing, the Hong Kong-based group Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said. Families and friends reported the detention or harassment of several dissidents, and some activists said they were warned not to participate Sunday.
Police pulled Beijing lawyer Jiang Tianyong into a car and drove away, said his wife, Jin Bianling. She told The Associated Press by phone Saturday night that she was still waiting for more information.
On Sunday, searches for "jasmine" were blocked on China's largest Twitter-like microblog, and status updates with the word on popular Chinese social networking site Renren.com were met with an error message and a warning to refrain from postings with "political, sensitive ... or other inappropriate content."
Mass text messaging service was unavailable in Beijing due to "technical issues," according to a customer service operator for leading provider China Mobile. In the past, Chinese authorities have suspended text messaging in politically tense areas to prevent organizing.
On Beijing's busy Wangfujing pedestrian mall, where protesters were told to rally in front of a McDonald's restaurant, there was a heavier-than-normal police presence amid the crowds of shoppers. Along with uniformed police and "public security volunteers" wearing red armbands, plainclothes officers monitored the crowd with video and still cameras. A police surveillance van was parked across the street from the restaurant.
Boxun.com said its website was attacked by hackers Saturday after it posted the call to protest. A temporary site, on which users were reporting heavy police presence in several cities, was up and running Sunday.
China's authoritarian government has appeared unnerved by recent protests in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria and Libya. It has limited media reports, stressing the instability caused by protests in Egypt, and restricted Internet searches to keep people uninformed.
The call for a Jasmine Revolution came as President Hu Jintao gave a speech to top leaders Saturday, asking them to "solve prominent problems which might harm the harmony and stability of the society." Hu told the senior politicians and officials to provide better social services to people and improve management of information on the Internet "to guide public opinion," the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
The ruling Communist Party is dogged by the threat of social unrest over rising food and housing prices and other issues.
In the latest price increase, the National Development and Reform Commission announced Saturday that gasoline and diesel prices would be raised by 350 yuan ($53) per ton.
Tensions were already high in recent days after a video secretly made under house arrest by one of China's best-known activist lawyers, Chen Guangcheng, was made public. Chen and his wife reportedly were beaten in response, and some of Chen's supporters reported being detained or beaten by authorities after meeting to discuss his case.
© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.