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August 18, 2011

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Disbelief at violence of 'volunteers'

THE 58-year-old unlicensed fruit stall vendor recalled the scene from Tuesday evening when, carrying her eight-month-old grandson, she ran to escape desperately from 30-plus armed men who chased and beat them with long steel bars.

"They chased us all the way and beat every stall vendor in sight, from young men to old women, even those who were lying on the ground, and then another white van came only to send more to block our way," said the vendor surnamed Zhang, a Hunan Province native.

She was one of the 10 unlicensed vendors engaged in a fierce clash with the armed men about 7pm Tuesday at the intersection of Ningxia Road and Kaixuan Road in Putuo District. Four vendors were hospitalized after the fight.

But, in a stunning statement, police claimed that the armed men who dressed in green army uniforms were "urban management volunteers" seeking only to help the community, not thugs hired by the urban management team, as the victim vendors assumed.

Putuo police released an official announcement saying that the clash started when the volunteers tried to crack down on the unlicensed street vendors, while Putuo Urban Management Team officials told Shanghai Daily that the volunteers were working on their own and had nothing to do with the team.

The title of "volunteer" immediately sparked doubts among the vendors and motorcyclists who witnessed the violence on the street.

"So what kind of volunteers would carry 1-meter-long iron bars, act so violently to beat women, and run away when police come?" asked a motorcyclist surnamed Wu from Anhui Province.

Wu said the accident started when 10-plus armed men arrived on electronic mopeds with the word "Putuo" on the vehicles. He said the men insulted the vendors with dirty words and then started beating them, while some angry vendors called on their family members, including women and children, to fight back.

Wu said one of the armed men called for reinforcements via cellphone and soon another van arrived. They dropped their weapons and fled when police arrived.

A crowd of over 100 residents witnessed the scene and showed their anger by taking pictures of the fight and uploading them online.

Vendor Zhang said she saw a male vendor bleeding from his head and his wife lying unconscious on the ground after the combat.

Zhang said this was not the first time that the armed men had tried to do the jobs of the urban management team to crack down on the vendors, but violence had not been used before.

"Once a 'volunteer' told me that he earns 1,500 yuan from the sub-district government to supervise the illegal businesses," she said.

An official surnamed Su with an office that's supposed to supervise the volunteers denied the existence of such "volunteers" and told Shanghai Daily that they had never recruited such people.

Su said the office was still seeking the armed men's true identities.


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