Doubts over Wen Jiabao's Meeting with Chinese Petitioners

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For the first time ever, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao has met with petitioners. They are people from all over China who go to Beijing hoping to resolve problems back home. The public meeting on Monday was widely broadcast by state-run TV, but some, including long-time petitioners, are questioning the highly publicized event.

Every year in China, tens of thousands of petitioners across the country flock to the capital of Beijing. They hope to file complaints that their local authorities did not address. It's a growing social problem where many petitioners are sent back home or are detained illegally. On Monday, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao met with petitioners in Beijing for the first time to hear their concerns. But the highly publicized event is already raising doubts.

[Wu Huaying, Fujian Petitioner]:
"The petition office had just eight petitioners inside. When I went, there were always long lines with hundreds of people. This is a basic fact. We are long time petitioners and have experienced this. News like [this meeting] no longer excites us, because we have been disappointed too many times."

State-run television widely broadcasted Wen's visit to the State Bureau for Letters and Calls, the central office that handles petitioners. Some, including Beijing-based rights lawyer Ni Yulan—a former petitioner herself—believes it's probably just for show.

[Ni Yulan, Beijing Rights Lawyer]:
"I think it's because the public no longer trusts the government, so Wen appears to be trying to understand the problems. But these petitioners he met with—were they real petitioners or staged by the government?"

Beijing activist Zhou Li agrees. She told the Associated Press that she had never heard of two of the petitioners named in state media reports. She also says at least three veteran petitioners were placed under house arrest before Wen's visit

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