China probes "Aids demolition team" threatening residents

BEIJING (REUTERS) - A city in central China is investigating reports that workers tasked with demolishing homes for a new development are threatening to infect residents with Aids if they don't move out, state media reported on Wednesday.

Forced demolitions are a frequent cause of unrest and anger in China, with local governments and developers often accused of using thugs to carry out demolition orders and of not paying proper compensation.

Pictures of the "Aids demolition team" have recently surfaced on Chinese social media, with residents claiming to have been harassed since December to move out of their homes which are slated for demolition and development.

The government of Nanyang in the central province of Henan confirmed the team's existence, but said that they were not hired by the local government, the official Xinhua news agency said. "An official with the Nanyang government said a company in charge of the community's demolition has been closed and is being investigated," the report added. "It is not yet known whether the team really included Aids patients or just used the disease as a threat." Poor and populous, Henan is known in China as being one of the country's first areas hit by Aids.

In the 1990s, thousands of farmers in Henan were infected with the disease through schemes in which people sold blood to unsanitary, often state-run, clinics.

People in China living with HIV and Aids face widespread fear, discrimination and stigma, with even medical workers sometimes refusing to touch them.

Last week, authorities in a Chinese village launched a"thought education" campaign after more than 200 villagers signed a petition to banish an eight-year-old boy infected with the HIV virus.

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