Chinese police staged a show of force yesterday to stifle a mysterious online call for a "Jasmine Revolution", apparently echoing pro-democracy demonstrations in the Middle East.
But the campaign did not gain much traction among ordinary citizens and the chances of toppling the Communist government remain slim, considering Beijing's tight controls over the media and the internet.
Police detained known activists, increased the number of officers on the streets, disconnected some mobile phone texting services and censored internet postings about the call to stage protests in Beijing, Shanghai and 11 other major cities. A student-led pro-democracy movement in 1989 was crushed by the military and hundreds – perhaps thousands – were killed.
Police detained at least three people in Beijing, one of whom tried to lay down white jasmine flowers, as hundreds of people milled about the rallying place, outside a McDonald's. In Shanghai, three people were held near the planned protest spot after they scuffled in an apparent bid to grab the attention of passers-by.
Many activists said they did not know who was behind the campaign and were not sure what to make of the call to protest, which circulated first on Saturday on the US-based, Chinese-language news website Boxun.com.