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Pair held over call to rob Chinese shops

Updated: 2013-12-13 00:11
By LI XIAOKUN ( China Daily)

Pair held over call to rob Chinese shops

People look for goods in a ransacked shop after it was looted in the northern Argentine province of Tucuman on Tuesday. Rioting and a wave of looting of Chinese-run shops that began earlier this month have resulted in the deaths of 10 people, including one Chinese shop owner. REUTERS/Paloma Cortes Aysua

Police in Argentina arrested two people on Wednesday who allegedly initiated an online campaign to loot Chinese-run shops in the run-up to Christmas.

The arrests came after security officials in Argentina promised to protect the Chinese community amid continuing chaos and large-scale riots that broke out during a police strike that began earlier this month.

Ten people have been killed in the rioting, including one Chinese shop owner, and dozens of Chinese-run shops have been robbed.

Argentina's Cabinet chief is to declare an end to the police strike, but violence continued on Wednesday in streets abandoned by officers asking for higher salaries.

This week, an account named SAKEO SN appearing on social media in Argentina called for the looting of Chinese shops on Dec 20, so that the looters could have "a pleasant Christmas Eve".

More than 4,000 people had vowed to take part in the looting as of Wednesday.

On Thursday, the People's Daily website quoted Argentine police as saying that they arrested the suspected initiator and his accomplice at their homes. They will be charged with sedition.

The police had some very important evidence, the report said.

The development came a day after Chinese Vice-Minister of Public Security Li Wei completed a visit to the South American country.

Li demanded that Argentina "resolutely stop looting initiated on the Internet against Chinese-run shops".

It is unclear whether Li made the trip due to the chaos. A news release posted on the website of the Chinese embassy in Argentina said Li visited the country at the invitation of its security authorities.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei confirmed the death of the Chinese shop owner on Thursday, saying that the embassy has demanded Argentina "break the case as soon as possible".

An ethnic Chinese businessman, identified only as Chen, told the Xi'an-based newspaper Huashang Daily that the shop owner who died had guns to defend his premises and injured two looters.

"All the looters left the shop, but then returned and burned the premises. The owner failed to escape and was burned to death," Chen said.

Early on Tuesday, another shop in Chen's area was robbed. "They grabbed everything in three hours and ransacked the home of the owner, even taking the toilet," Chen said.

He said about 120,000 ethnic Chinese live in Argentina and there are some 8,000 Chinese-run shops nationwide.

Guillermo Devoto, spokesman for the Argentine embassy in Beijing, said, "The looting is not aimed at Chinese stores, because many other stores have been robbed during the incidents, including stores owned by Koreans and Argentinians."

He said most Argentine citizens love to have Chinese grocery stores in their neighborhoods because they are very convenient and have been open for many years.

"Argentina has a population of 42 million, so the 4,000 people who supported the robbery on Facebook cannot represent the whole of Argentine society," he added.

About 10,000 policemen have been mobilized and protection is being afforded in particular to Chinese stores that have been robbed, Devoto said.

The Chinese embassy in Argentina also said the robberies are not especially targeted at ethnic Chinese. It has called on Chinese-run shops to strengthen security, reduce stocks and to remain alert.

Chen said Chinese-run shops have been targeted due to long opening hours that "squeeze" competitors.

"Chinese-run shops are not the only targets, but some ethnic Chinese like to show off their wealth, making their shops a target," he added, saying that another cause might be the Chinese community's habit of keeping cash in shops or at home.

He said many Chinese shop owners are nervous about the looting plan on Dec 20.

Some shops have reopened as police return to work, but the owners have remained vigilant, sending people to keep an eye out in the streets and inform shop owners of any danger.

He Shuangrong, a researcher in Latin American studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the attacks can't simply be interpreted as being anti-Chinese.

They are linked to many factors, such as shopkeepers being unable to master local languages, leading to communication problems with the police, she said.

"Strengthening protection of the interests of overseas Chinese will be an important task in our diplomatic work in the future," she said.

Zhang Fan in Beijing contributed to this story.



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