January 4, 2010 / 2:23 PM / 9 years ago

China gang gets long jail terms in riot-hit area

BEIJING (Reuters) - A “mafia-style” gang of 18 people in a part of southwest China hit by violent protests in 2008 spurred in part by fears over rampant crime have been given long jail terms, state media said on Monday.

Stability-obsessed leaders in Beijing are keen to tamp down protests and incidents of “mass unrest” which have been growing in China in recent years as a booming economy has also brought rising corruption, inequality and environmental problems.

Thousands of residents mobbed government offices in Weng’an county, Guizhou, in late June 2008. The police headquarters was torched and police vehicles wrecked after claims spread that authorities had covered up a teenage girl’s death.

At the time, the government also blamed local officials for ignoring a crime wave in the area, which it said had contributed to the unrest by undermining public confidence in the police.

At least six people have already been jailed for the riot, and now 18 others had been sentenced to up to 20 years for “involvement in organised crimes” in the region, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Twelve of the 18 were “convicted of organising the mafia-style gang, racketeering, illegal mining, operating gambling dens, intentional injuring, rape and many other offences”, the report added.

Some of the gang members were also involved in the protests over the girl’s death, Xinhua said, “mobbing government office buildings and setting fire to them”.

Another 100 suspected gang members had yet to be tried, it added. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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