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More than 1,000 customers of Chinese banks were violently dispersed after they gathered in front of the People’s Bank of China building in the city of Zhengzhou, the provincial capital of Henan, as early as 4am on Sunday, July 10.
The Chinese authorities acted on the peaceful protesters after several demonstrations have so far been staged by depositors in the city over the past two months, CNN reported.
Zhengzhou is some 620km southwest of Beijing.
The protesters are among thousands of customers who opened accounts at six rural banks in Henan and neighboring Anhui province that offered higher interest rates, Associated Press reported, along with accompanying videos that have been put online initially by the Chinese.
They later found they could not withdraw their funds following media reports that the head of the banks’ parent company was wanted for financial crimes and on the run, AP added.
Their demands have so far fallen on deaf ears and come in the wake of a cash crisis.
Crowd slammed local government, called on central government
The crowd that had gathered included the elderly and children.
They chanted slogans and held up banners outside the bank.
"Henan banks, return my savings!" they shouted in unison, many waving Chinese flags, CNN reported.
A banner written in English read: "Against the corruption and violence of the Henan government."
Showing the country's flag while calling out the local government is meant to demonstrate that the protesters are relying on the central government to seek redress.
A large portrait of late Chinese leader Mao Zedong was even pasted on a pillar at the entrance of the bank, it was reported.
Police gather around protest site
Hundreds of police and security personnel, in uniforms and plain clothes, surrounded the site.
They arrived as early as 8am, AP reported.
Protesters shouted "gangsters" at them.
Police charge at protesters
The face-off lasted till about 11am.
Security officers suddenly charged and clashed with protesters, who threw bottles and other small objects in retaliation.
The scene quickly became chaotic.
Security officers dragged protesters away and beat those who resisted, including women and the elderly.
AP reported that one woman who was hit, said she asked the officer: “Why did you hit me?”
According to her, he responded: “What’s wrong with beating you?”
Protesters were brought to makeshift detention sites across the city by bus.
The detention zones included hotels, schools, and factories, according to people taken there.
Those injured were taken to hospitals.
Many were released from detention by the late afternoon.
However, the protesters were forced to sign a letter guaranteeing they would not gather anymore, AP reported.
Local bank regulator responds
By Sunday night, the Henan banking regulator issued a terse statement saying that the process to verify information on customer funds at the four rural banks was being expedited.
One of those depositors who had their money frozen said he could not withdraw 500,000 yuan (S$104,540) from his account, CNN reported.
The man lost his job during the pandemic and said he is counting on his savings to feed his family.
Separately, a business owner could not withdraw money from his account that has 4 million yuan (S$836,316).
This has resulted in him having trouble paying his employees.
What happened with banks
Trouble with the banks started in April 2022.
The rural banks in China's central Henan province froze millions of dollars worth of deposits, threatening the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of customers.
The issue was at first localised, as it involved rural banks.
But it then became a national scandal by June 2022 after many who set out for Zhengzhou to demand action from regulators found that their health status on the Covid-19 tracking app had turned red.
This prevented them from travelling.
But the change in health status was a misuse of the app.
Five Zhengzhou officials were later punished.
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