Chinese take to streets over share sale

SHENZHEN (Agencies) - Thousands of angry investors took to the streets of this southern Chinese city yesterday, setting fire to a police car in protest against alleged corruption in the sale of share application forms, witnesses said.

Between 50,000 and 60,000 demonstrators, some holding placards saying 'Down with Corruption', were involved in the protest, the witnesses said. Unconfirmed reports said police fired shots into the air and used tear gas to try and control the crowd outside the main government buildings.

The disturbance followed weekend chaos when an estimated 1 million people tried to cash in on the booming southern stock market through the sale of share application forms in the city, which borders Hong Kong.

Policemen flailed the crowd with bamboo canes, leather belts and electric cattle prods in a desperate attempt to control the mayhem. Local police said on Sunday that one person had died in the crush as investors from all over the nation battled to get hold of the forms, which allow applicants to enter a lottery for shares.

Only one in 10 forms will be selected by stock market officials, giving the lucky holders the chance to buy stock later this year.

Investors had milled around some of the sales offices throughout yesterday, refusing to believe that all 5 million forms had been sold by Sunday night in what was supposed to be a two-day sale.

A craze for share trading has swept China in recent months despite official warnings against the dangers of blindly investing in the belief that prices only go up.

Yesterday China played down the weekend chaos. It was ignored by national media, while the Shenzhen Special Zone Daily reported: 'Due to co-operation by all sides, the sales were carried out fairly, safely and efficiently, and no serious injuries or deaths were reported.'

PEKING - Police have scuttled a Chinese peasant's attempt to run a hi-tech floating casino that used cellular telephones to contact gambling customers, according to an official newspaper, AFP reports.

The peasant, Huang Jiahua, converted a sand-barge into the gambling boat in mid-July, installing a 142 sq ft air-conditioned casino and steered the vessel up and down the Fenjiang River in southern China's Guangdong province.

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