Beijing shopkeepers protest evictions

Shopkeepers protest outside the Beijing Zoo wholesale market in Beijing on June 23, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (AFP) - Over 100 shopkeepers at a popular Beijing market held a rare street protest Friday (June 23) against what they call unreasonable eviction as the Chinese capital seeks to curb population growth.

The crowd gathered outside the entrance of the Beijing Zoo wholesale market in the west of the city, punching their fists in the air and shouting, "Return our money!"

Rows of police officers encircled the crowd, with some wearing riot gear as the two sides bumped against each other.

Street protests are rare in the Communist-ruled country, especially ones that continue over multiple days, and authorities usually shut them down swiftly.

The merchants say they have been demonstrating since receiving notice a week ago that some sections of the market must clear out by Saturday, and everything must be completely shut down by the end of this month.

Videos some shopkeepers posted on social media showed protesters and police pushing each other on Thursday.

"At least three people got hurt and two went to hospital," said a protester from neighbouring Hebei province, who did not want to give his name out of fear of reprisal.

Most of the shopkeepers are migrants from other parts of the country.

"I have been paying rent on four stalls after signing a 20-year contract for them. We moved to Beijing to support our children and now we have nowhere to go," said Ye, a woman from eastern Zhejiang province.

Ye and her husband say they have paid more than 300,000 yuan in shop rent and fees since 2012.

"We are not making any big demands. We just want some appropriate compensation," said the 33-year-old.

"We have all these suitcases and handbags to sell, but don't even have any place to store them now," she added.

The market was built in the mid-1980s and was attracting nearly 100,000 customers daily in 2015, according to the state-owned China Daily.

Plans to close the Beijing Zoo market businesses in order to "reduce traffic congestion and population density" were first announced in 2015, according to the state-owned Beijing Times.

Earlier this year, Beijing announced it would cap its population at 23 million residents by 2020 and aim to "keep it at that level for the long term."

The capital's official population is over 21 million, but the figure does not account for the number of unregistered residents.

The local Xicheng district government office did not answer calls from AFP.

Calls to the management of the wholesale market also went unanswered.

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