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A large crowd of angry Chinese bank depositors clashed with police on Sunday, some roughed up when taken away, in a case that has drawn attention due to previous attempts to use a COVID-19 tracking app to prevent them from mobilizing.
Hundreds of people held banners and chanted slogans on the wide steps of the entrance to a branch of the Central Bank of China in Zhengzhou city, Henan province, about 620 kilometers (380 miles) away. southwest of Beijing. Video taken by a protester shows plainclothes security teams pelted with water bottles and other objects as they charge into the crowd.
Later videos posted on social media show an uncertain number of protesters pushed individually and down the stairs by security teams dressed in white or black t-shirts. Phone calls to police from Zhengzhou City and Henan Province went unanswered.
The protesters are among thousands of customers who opened accounts at six rural banks in Henan and neighboring Anhui province that offered higher interest rates. They later discovered they could not withdraw their funds after media reports that the head of the banks’ parent company was on the run and wanted for financial crimes.
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“We came today and wanted to get our savings back, because I have elderly people and children at home, and the inability to withdraw savings has seriously affected my life,” said a woman from the province of Shandong, who only gave his surname, Zhang. , for fear of reprisals.
What had been a local scandal became a national incident last month due to the misuse of the COVID-19 tracking app. Many of those who traveled to Zhengzhou to demand action from regulators found their health status on the app had turned red, preventing them from travelling. Some said they were questioned by police after checking into their hotel to find out why they had come to town. Five Zhengzhou officials were then punished.
Protesters gathered before dawn on Sunday outside the People’s Bank of China building in Zhengzhou. Police vehicles with flashing lights can be seen in videos taken in the early morning darkness. The police closed off the street and by 8 a.m. had started massing on the other side, Zhang said.
Besides the uniformed police, there were the teams of men in plain T-shirts. A bank regulator and a local government official arrived, but their attempts to speak to the crowd were shouted down. Zhang and another protester, a Beijing man surnamed Yang, told the AP that protesters had heard of the officials before and did not believe what they were saying. Yang declined to be identified by his full name, fearing pressure from authorities.
Police then announced to protesters from a vehicle with a megaphone that they were an illegal assembly and would be arrested and fined if they did not leave. Around 10 a.m., the men in T-shirts rushed into the crowd and dispersed it. Zhang said he saw women being dragged down the stairs from the bank entrance.
Zhang herself was hit and said she asked the officer, “Why did you hit me?” According to her, he replied, “What’s wrong with beating you up?”
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Yang said he was hit by two security guards, including one who fell from the stairs and mistakenly thought in the chaos that Yang had hit or pushed him.
“Although repeated protests and demonstrations don’t necessarily have a big impact, I think it’s still helpful for more people to know and understand us or sympathize with us,” Yang said. “Every time you do it, you could make a difference. Although you are touched, they really can’t do anything to you, can they?”
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Protesters were bused to various sites where Zhang said they were forced to sign a letter guaranteeing they would not gather again.
On Sunday night, Henan banking regulators posted a brief notice on their website saying authorities were accelerating verification of customer funds at four of the banks and formulating a plan to resolve the situation to protect the rights and public interests.