China jails city workers over fruit seller's death

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BEIJING (AP) - A Chinese court on Friday sentenced four municipal security officers to prison for a clash that left a watermelon seller dead and triggered a public outcry.

The Yongxing County People's Court in central China said in a notice on its website that the four officers were convicted of intentional injury and sentenced to prison terms ranging from 3 1/2 to 11 years.

The officials in the county in Hunan province were enforcing an urban code and tried to prevent Deng and his wife from selling fruit in a place they were not allowed to.

Deng's death in the fight with the officials became the latest flash point of public anger against urban management officers who are notorious for corruption and violence against small businesses and the poor.

While witness accounts in state media indicated Deng was most likely beaten to death, the county government said at the time that Deng had died suddenly, but did not offer a clear cause. The government reportedly took Deng's corpse by force from family members, prompting complaints of a possible cover-up to avoid responsibility.

Many in China have long resented the heavy-handed tactics of the country's urban management officers, who are known as "chengguan." They are hired by bureaus tasked with enforcing non-criminal city codes covering issues such as street vending, noise control, sanitation and parking.

Though they have no legal authority to use force, they are often accused of beating people who commit minor infractions in a show of power that has fueled social tension, triggered riots and aggravated public discontent against the government.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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