Villagers protest SARS policy, wreck government building

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 5, 2003

BEIJING (AP) - Villagers protesting their local government's SARS policy beat up officials, broke windows and smashed office furniture in China's eastern Zhejiang province, witnesses and officials said today.

The demonstration in the town of Xiande was one of the most violent since SARS began hitting Asian nations and stirring up fears among residents worried that their governments aren't properly battling the mysterious virus.

On Sunday, authorities said that schools in Beijing will stay closed an additional two weeks to protect students from SARS. China's capital shut down the schools about two weeks ago and set May 7 as the date for allowing more than 1.3 million students to return to class.

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So far, severe acute respiratory syndrome has killed 461 people worldwide and has infected 6,300 others.

In Xiande, several thousands of villagers began protesting last weekend in front of a local government building where suspected SARS patients were being quarantined, said a witness, who asked not to be named.

''They shouldn't have hospitalized patients in the government building, which has no medical facilities and professional staff,'' said the villager, reached by telephone.

The witness said five villagers broke into the building Sunday night, shattering windows and breaking furniture in a few offices.

Three officials trying to stop the violence were injured, the witness said.

An officer in the Yuhuan County Public Security Bureau said two people who led the attack would be detained for between five and seven days. Five other detainees would be released later, said the policeman, who would only give his surname, Chen. It was not clear when the two additional people were detained.

The witness said villagers continued their protest this morning when they heard three more people had been placed under quarantine inside the building.

Last week, protesters in a village east of Beijing ransacked a school after hearing the building was to be used as a SARS ward.

China reported nine new SARS deaths today, three of which were in Beijing, raising the mainland's total to 206. Officials added 160 new cases, bringing the national total of 4,280.