- - Thursday, June 16, 2011

BEIJING — Police in Guangzhou province sparked a weekend of violent protests last week when they pushed a pregnant migrant worker to the ground to force her to move her food stand off a road in the town of Xintang.

Throngs of angry migrant workers took to the streets Friday evening, torching several vehicles and hurling bricks at police buildings. By Sunday, thousands of police using shotguns and tear gas had quelled the violence.

Such protests have become almost commonplace in China over the past few years. Given Xintang’s large migrant workforce, a street vendor’s confrontation with the police quickly can spiral into demonstrations.

Xintang is a factory town in Zengcheng County, an area that accounts for almost a third of all of China’s exports. Most Xintang factories make jeans for more than 60 foreign brands for export around the world.

But the majority of its factory workers are not locals; most are from Sichuan province in central China. In Xintang, the migrants make double the money they could earn as farmers in Sichuan.

The State Council Development Research Center, a top think tank of the Communist Party that advises central government officials, published a report Tuesday calling for better treatment for migrant workers, who often are viewed as “interlopers” in Chinese cities.

China’s migrant workforce numbers nearly 300 million, but there are no national laws specifically for dealing with them. China’s worker registration system was designed for a population that does not move around.

“Rural migrant workers are marginalized in cities, treated as mere cheap labor, not absorbed by cities but even neglected, discriminated against and harmed,” the think-tank report said.

The think tank said migrant workers could become a serious threat to China’s stability if the government does not address their concerns.

Although protests are not uncommon in China, the number and size of violent demonstrations the country has seen in the past few weeks is unusual, analysts say.

The riots are particularly unnerving for the Communist Party as it tries to maintain an image of stability leading up to the 90th anniversary of its founding.

In light of the “Arab Spring” over the past few months, analysts say the party is becoming much more vigilant in cracking down on protests before they gain momentum.

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