HONG KONG (Reuters) - Police in southern China have struggled to contain riots by hundreds of migrant workers over several days in a city near Guangzhou after a young pregnant street hawker was harassed by security guards, media reports said Monday.
Hong Kong television showed seething crowds of migrant workers from the southwestern province of Sichuan running through the streets of Zengcheng, smashing windows, setting fire to government buildings and overturning police vehicles.
Riot police were shown firing tear gas Sunday night, deploying armoured vehicles to disperse the crowds and handcuffing protesters.
Witnesses said there were more than 1,000 protesters and at least one government office had been besieged.
"People were running around like crazy," a shopowner in the area told the South China Morning Post newspaper. "I had to shut the shop by 7 p.m. and dared not come out."
Thousands of riots, protests and other forms of unrest break out across China each year, with fast economic growth sometimes amplifying grievances over problems ranging from rampant inflation to corruption, a big wealth gap, industrial pollution, forced demolitions and abuse of power.
News reports said the incident in Zengcheng was sparked on Friday night when security personnel in nearby Dadun village pushed pregnant hawker Wang Lianmei, 20, to the ground while trying to clear her off the streets.
"The case was just an ordinary clash between street vendors and local public security people, but was used by a handful of people who wanted to cause trouble," Zengcheng Mayor Ye Niuping was quoted as saying by the China Daily newspaper.
Other clashes have erupted in southern China in recent weeks, including in Chaozhou, where hundreds of migrant workers demanding payment of their wages at a ceramics factory attacked government buildings and set vehicles ablaze.
The stability-obsessed Communist Party maintains strict political and media controls to quash organised dissent. It budgeted a 13.8 percent rise in spending on "public security" outlays this year to 624.4 billion yuan ($95 billion).
(Reporting by James Pomfret and Xavier Ng; Editing by Chris Lewis and Ron Popeski)