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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 September 2007, 06:18 GMT 07:18 UK
Deadline up for China petitioners
By James Reynolds
BBC News, Beijing

A man walks past a pile of rubbish near the petitioners' village on 6 September 2007
The government says the district will be demolished
Ordinary Chinese citizens who have travelled to Beijing to protest about local injustices have been ordered to leave their homes.

The petitioners live in Beijing's Fengtai District, and were given until noon today to move.

Some have already left the area, which is being torn down to make way for a railway station.

Many say the demolition is part of a campaign to clean up Beijing before the Communist Party's congress next month.

The petitioners' village in Beijing is not really a village. More accurately, it is a set of boarding houses in a series of narrow, damp alleyways.

Thousands of petitioners rent beds whilst they present their petitions to the central government.

They are all watched closely by teams of plain clothes police officers.

'No choice'

In one of the houses, half a dozen men crowded around their bunk beds inside a small room.

Petitioners in a cramped room in Fengtai district in on 6 September 2007
The petitioners have been living in cramped conditions in Fengtai

Each man pays 5 yuan a day (67 US cents, 33 British pence) to share a mattress with two others. Those with a bit more money pay 10 yuan to get a mattress of their own.

Ma Xin, on a top bunk, was laid off from a construction company a decade ago and has been petitioning for help ever since.

"It's awful," he said. "Most petitioners don't have any income and our families are falling apart. I live here because I really don't have any other choice. If they knock down this village, we petitioners have to wander out onto the street."

Wang Tianxiang, on a lower bunk, used to work in a state-run steel factory before he lost his job and the apartment that went with it.

"If the government demolishes this petitioner village, all of us will be forced out onto the street," he warned. "We have no choice. The government should think of us, because petitioning is legal - we're allowed to do it."

'Only hope'

Petitioning is almost the only way ordinary Chinese people have of making themselves heard.

Delegates attend the opening session of the 16th Chinese Communist Party Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, 08/11/2002
The party congress is due to open next month

It has been part of China's system for centuries - it is the equivalent of throwing yourself at the emperor's feet, begging to be heard.

But the ruling Communist Party does not want any interruptions before its five-yearly Party Congress next month.

Xue Baoku said that this latest development would not put him off. He has been petitioning for more than a decade.

"I would rather die fighting for justice," he said. "I would like the central government to give us justice otherwise we won't be able to get on with our lives. We will never give up. Being here is the only hope we've got."

None of those remaining is entirely sure when the demolition work might begin. Some guess the end of the month - others, the end of the year.


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