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Hired thugs held over attack on arts centreVerna Yu26 February 2010Beijing police have detained 18 people for attacking a handful of artists to evict them from an art zone to make way for a property development.Xinhua yesterday quoted police as saying that the suspects had been detained for allegedly breaking into three artists’ workshops and intentionally injuring the occupants.Artists at the Zhengyang Creative Art Zone said about 100 hired thugs descended on their community on the outskirts of Beijing in the early hours of Monday, wielding knives and iron rods. They beat several artists who confronted them and also smashed their cameras and mobile phones. Six artists were sent to hospital with injuries. Artist Liu Yi and Japanese artist Satoshi Iwama received several stitches for head injuries.The Beijing Times reported that the attackers were hired by two bosses of a property developer, who were among those detained.Hours after the attack, on Monday afternoon, about 20 artists marched on Changan Avenue - Beijing’s main thoroughfare - holding banners and shouting slogans decrying the use of force to tear down their community. They were prevented from reaching Tiananmen Square by dozens of police cars but no one was arrested.It was a rare protest on the normally heavily guarded avenue.Outspoken artist Ai Weiwei, who watched the protest, said the artists’ action had led to the arrests and a victory against the developers. They were consoled by the fact that police had taken swift action to arrest the assailants. On the day of the protest, he said he had expected police to detain the protesting artists.“The government has not overreacted; it defused the situation by seriously dealing with the thugs,” Ai said. “They responded to the artists’ fight for justice ... the outcome [of the protest] was beyond our expectation.”But individual artists have posted messages on Twitter accounts saying they were warned by police that their protest was illegal and they could still be prosecuted. They could not be reached for comment yesterday.Despite their victory, the fate of the art zone remains unclear. The artists said their leases had not run out but that property developers had been trying to evict them since last year.Since November, water and electricity supplies to their homes and studios had been cut off. Since then they had guarded the district around the clock but one of their makeshift community offices had its roof, doors and windows smashed a day before the attack.More than 10 so-called artist villages on the outskirts of Beijing that house the studios of 1,000 artists are under threat of demolition.
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