- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2007

BEIJING (AP) — Thousands of demobilized Chinese soldiers rioted last week at training centers in at least three cities in an extremely rare series of coordinated demonstrations, a human rights group said yesterday.

Former troops smashed classrooms, overturned cars and set fires to protest their poor living conditions, the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy reported.

At least 20 persons were injured and five arrested when riot police moved in to quell the disturbances, which started on the afternoon of Sept. 3, it said.

The center said about 2,000 ex-soldiers took part in the riots in the cities of Baotou, Wuhan and Baoji, spread over a 775-mile stretch of eastern China. Reports posted on the Internet along with video clips appearing to show some of the violence said the disturbances were even more widespread, but gave few details.

The reported protests, which authorities refused to confirm, were notable for their level of coordination, something not seen on a nationwide scale since the 1989 democracy demonstrations in Beijing and several other cities.

They also follow a string of recent campus unrest by students angered by poor living conditions or administrative changes that reduced the value of their diplomas.

However, they were the first incidents reported involving former soldiers, who are usually deferential and loyal to the communist regime.

Demobilized soldiers are frequently rewarded for their service with government jobs, and 6,000 of them were sent to 12 different railway schools in July for two years of training, the reports said.

However, they were angered by run-down dormitories, bad but expensive food and a lack of study materials, according to the center and Internet reports.

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