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Bid for democracy in China. Student protests cool but test Peking's reform plan

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After three days of protests on the streets of Shanghai, the momentum of student demonstrations here has been broken. The city government yesterday issued a ban on public demonstrations without a permit. The new rule - plus student concerns about January exams - appears to have encouraged them to return to their campuses and discouraged further rallies.

Posters from university authorities and the mayor which appeared on the city's 50 some campuses urged students to desist from joining demonstrations, keep off the streets, and return to classes.

According to an official newspaper, Wen Hui Bao, a spokesman for the city government said, ``The majority of the students are proceeding with good motivation: concern for reforms and the speeding up of the process of democratic socialism. Such enthusiasm is understandable. However, we must also bear in mind that some students have an inadequate understanding of the actual situation of our country's reforms and have a muddled view of how to correctly excercise democratic rights.''

Since the student protests began in other Chinese cities two weeks ago, there have been no reports in China's national newspapers. But reports were carried yesterday in Shanghai papers, which denied that any students had been beaten or arrested during a critical confrontation with police Friday. The report stressed how demonstrators had disrupted traffic and generally disturbed public order.

Students contest the government's description of the demonstrations, and one student in Shanghai's People's Square, a central rallying point, said the press reports had ``distorted the truth.''

Although most observers agree that the police have acted with unusual restraint, foreign journalists have seen some instances of police beating youths and of apparent arrests.

On their banners, protesting students have been calling broadly for democracy and freedom, but in the Shanghai protests there have been few specifics other than a demand for freedom to publicize their concerns in the state-controlled press.

So far, the Shanghai rallies have been the crest of a wave of protest in several Chinese cities since earlier this month. The protests come at a time of lively discussion in the press about the need for limited political reform to complement economic reforms senior leader Deng Xiaoping launched more than seven years ago. Some concrete proposals for political reform are expected before the new Communist Party Congress convenes next fall.

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