BEIJING — In the first major student demonstration since widespread unrest erupted last winter, hundreds of university students Monday marched into downtown Beijing to protest what they called negligence in the death of a classmate.
Unlike the demonstrations last year, when students calling for freedom and democracy took to the streets in more than a dozen cities, the protesting students from Beijing's elite University of Foreign Economic Relations and Trade made clear to foreign reporters that their protest was over a specific grievance and was nonpolitical. They marched in defiance of a ban on demonstrations.
At one point in Monday's march, police tried to divide the columns of protesters into two groups and ended up clashing with some of the students. A witness saw policemen pummel a dozen students with their fists, bruising and bloodying some of them. Some of the students fought back, but no major injuries were reported.
The demonstration ended in the early evening after the students reached the Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations and Trade following an eight-mile march on a mild winter day from their campus on the northeastern side of the capital.
Ministry officials agreed to meet with student representatives to hear their complaints and then organized buses to take the students back to the campus.
Earlier, Zheng Tuobin, the minister of foreign economic relations and trade, had walked among the demonstrators, trying to persuade them to halt their march on the ministry, but they ignored his pleas.
The students were protesting the treatment of Zang Wei, 19, a student who was stabbed by assailants Saturday after they robbed a university grocery store.
The students say Zang failed to receive prompt medical treatment at the university clinic after they took him there. Students then took him to the modern Sino-Japanese Hospital, where an argument ensued over who would pay the hospital fees. Zang was admitted after classmates agreed to pay the fees, but he died in the hospital later that day.
The police were reported to have arrested two suspects in the case, neither of them a student.
Complaints About Security
The marchers also protested a lack of security on the campus and what students called the unresponsiveness of the university administration in dealing with Zang's case. They said they were also upset over what they described as medical negligence in the death of a female student who fell ill in October.
"Our lives are worthless," said one of the protest banners.
The students said more than 1,000 protesters went to the university president's house on Sunday but that the president refused to meet with them.
The demonstrators Monday were estimated to number at least 500. Some reports placed the number as high as 1,000. The university's student body numbers about 2,000.
The University of Foreign Economic Relations and Trade is the closest China has to a business school. Its students are being groomed to join their nation's leading international finance and business organizations.