China detains six over coup rumours, halts microblog posts
By Bill Smith Mar 31, 2012, 11:14 GMT
Chinese President Hu Jintao (L), shakes hands with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen (R), upon his arrival in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 31 March 2012. EPA/PRING SAMRANG / POOL
Beijing - Chinese authorities have detained six people for spreading rumours that fuelled speculation of a possible coup attempt, and have ordered microblogging websites to suspend their comment functions to allow a 'clean-up,' media reports said Saturday.
State media said police had detained six people and closed 16 websites accused of spreading rumours of military vehicles entering Beijing and possible political upheaval.
There has been no evidence of any unusual troop movement in Beijing since the rumours began circulating on March 19.
The rumours followed the removal on March 15 of Chongqing regional Communist Party leader Bo Xilai, who was previously tipped to win a top national post after the party's five-yearly congress in October.
A notice on the popular Twitter-like microblogging site Weibo, operated by Sina.com, said its comments function would be suspended for 72 hours from early Saturday.
The Tencent microblogging site, t.qq.com, said its comment function was suspended for the same period after it had been used to repost 'harmful information.'
It said the clean-up was ordered because of the 'unhealthy social impact of rumours and other illegal information spread through microblogging.'
The official Xinhua news agency quoted a government spokesman as saying Sina and Tencent had also been 'criticized and punished' over the spread of the political rumours.
'Political change is a rumour, political reform is also a rumour,' well-known artist and dissident Ai Weiwei posted on Twitter on Saturday in response to the suspension of microblog comments.
Ai was apparently referring to remarks by Premier Wen Jiabao, who publicly criticized Bo one day before his sacking was announced and said the ruling party must allow 'political reform' or risk a return to the chaos of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.
Wen's remarks were seen as a rebuke to conservative supporters of Bo who oppose the party's policy of gradual political reform towards one-party 'socialist democracy.'
Several powerful security and military leaders were believed to have backed Bo, including Zhou Yongkang, China's top public security official.
Zhou was the only one of the nine members of the all-powerful Standing Committee of the party's Politburo to oppose a decision to oust Bo at a meeting on March 7, the New York Times reported on Friday.
State media have reported Zhou's attendance and comments at several party and public meetings since March 7, suggesting that he is working normally.
A commentary on Saturday in People's Daily, the party's official newspaper, urged people to ignore 'external noise,' gossip and rumours, and to 'seek progress while ensuring stability.'
But rumours linked to Bo's demise continued to circulate Saturday, including speculation that a scandal preceding his removal from Chongqing was spurred by an investigation of the death of a British man with connections to Bo's family.
The scandal began after Wang Lijun, Chongqing's former police chief, entered a US consulate in China on February 6.
Wang stayed in the consulate overnight before leaving voluntarily, US officials said while declining to say what he did there.
Chinese authorities later said Wang was under investigation for unspecified offences.
The latest rumours claimed that Bo had sidelined Wang because the celebrated 'super cop' was investigating Bo's wife's links to the death of the British man in Chongqing in November.
Despite his removal from Chongqing, Bo retains a seat on the 25-member Politburo.
Another rumour on the US-based Chinese dissident website Boxun.com on Saturday said Bo's supporters had persuaded top leaders to give him a seat in the Politburo's Standing Committee in October and a new post as state vice premier.
Boxun quoted sources as saying the Standing Committee agreed the compromise on condition that Bo would report regularly to the new party leader and state premier, expected to be Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, respectively.
Some 200 million of China's estimated 500 million internet users hold microblog accounts.
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