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August 28, 2009

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Armed police equipped with broader power

CHINA'S legislature yesterday passed the country's first law on the armed police, giving the force new duties and statutory authority to respond to security emergencies.

The law mandates the mobilization of the 660,000-strong People's Armed Police Force to deal with riots, disruptions, serious violent crimes, terrorist attacks and other emergencies.

Armed police officers will patrol China's municipalities and provincial and regional capitals during "special periods" and take responsibility for the security of major transport lines and important public facilities.

The law says the PAPF will also have the duty to assist other law enforcement forces in arrest, pursuit and escort operations.

The law was passed by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress and endorsed by President Hu Jintao.

"The PAPF has long expected an armed police law with Chinese characteristics to provide a legal guarantee for the troops to carry out operations," General Wu Shuangzhan, commander of the PAPF, said yesterday.

Security role

Under the new law, PAPF troops can establish security checkpoints to examine all personnel and vehicles entering and departing an area under their authority. Armed police can interrogate suspicious persons and check their identification documents, belongings and vehicles.

They are also authorized to "take necessary measures" to dispel large assemblies of people that compromise social order and the security of facilities the PAPF protects.

However, the law prohibits PAPF troops from restricting individual freedom by detention or body searches as well as raiding individual residences without a warrant.

Although governments above county-level can request the use of the PAPF in security operations, the law strictly limits the authority to mobilize and deploy the PAPF to the State Council and the Central Military Commission.

Avoiding abuse

"It will be more responsible for the government to restrict the power to mobilize the armed police within higher authorities to avoid abuse," said Xin Chunying, a member of the NPC Standing Committee.

"The PAPF has gained a lot of successful experience in security operations since its foundation," Wang Shangxin, a member of the Commission for Legislative Affairs of the NPC Standing Committee, said at a news conference yesterday.

The PAPF - drawn from China's police - was founded in 1982 as an internal security force to provide services ranging from protecting important political figures to urban firefighting.

In December 2002, the PAPF headquarters selected 400 elite members from its troops around the country to create an anti-terrorism special force, the Snow Leopard Commando Unit, which was deployed at major events such as the Beijing Olympic Games last summer.

Under the dual command of the CMC and the State Council, the armed police played a major role in quelling riots in Lhasa on March 14 last year and in Urumqi on July 5.


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