China Downplays Jasmine Protests

China's state media is making light of scattered demonstrations in more than a dozen Chinese cities, comparing the protesters to "beggars in the street" and insisting that the public supports strong measures against anyone seeking to foment an uprising like those sweeping the Middle East.

In a commentary Monday, the Communist Party-controlled Global Times said Sunday's protests in Beijing, Shanghai and 11 other cities amounted to little more than "performance art" and argued the government enjoys broad public support.

However authorities had appeared less certain on Sunday, mobilizing tens of thousands of security forces at protest sites identified in mysterious online postings. Rights groups said at least 80 prominent activists and dissidents were detained or confined to their homes ahead of the so-called "Jasmine Revolution" protests.

The turnout at the protests, where demonstrators were urged to shout out demands for housing, justice, freedom and democracy, ranged up to a couple of hundred people at each site, accompanied by at least as many curious onlookers. At least two people were arrested in Beijing and three in Shanghai.

Western analysts say many of the web postings calling for the demonstrations appear to have originated on websites based outside China, operated by exiled dissidents. Authorities responded by blocking Internet links and searches involving the word "jasmine," which was first used to describe last month's popular uprising in Tunisia.

China has resisted all Western calls to ease government controls over Internet use, and the Chinese Foreign Ministry warned the United States last week not to use Internet-access issues as a "pretext" to interfere in China's internal affairs.

The warning came after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a major speech urging governments either to end Internet censorship or risk the kind of social and political unrest seen in much of the Middle East.

Beijing routinely blocks access to websites of foreign news organizations, including VOA. Chinese Internet monitors also are able to selectively block keywords and searches on topics they consider sensitive.