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Chinese province threatens thieves with execution

By Staff
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BEIJING, Feb 27 (Reuters) Courts in China's southern province of Guangdong will introduce harsher penalties, including death, to deter motorcycle-riding purse snatchers who sometimes chop off the hands of victims who resist, a newspaper said.

Guangdong's courts have heard more than 64,000 cases of such high-speed thefts and other kinds of armed robbery in the past three years, and convicted nearly 85,000 suspects, accounting for one third of all people found guilty of crimes, the Yangcheng Evening News said.

The extreme cruelty of local gangsters when attempting to steal anything from cell phones to earrings to purses have caused public outrage and widespread fear across the province.

To ease the ''grave situation'', the province's high court, prosecutor's office and police bureau issued guidelines over the weekend authorising violent purse-grabbers to face stiff armed robbery charges, as opposed to the lighter sentences for ordinary theft they used to face, the newspaper said in a report seen today.

The penalties for armed robbery range from lengthy jail terms to execution, it said.

''The guideline will surely scare the thieves a lot,'' the newspaper quoted the deputy head of the high court as saying.

Crime has soared along with the economic boom of Guangdong, which borders Hong Kong, in the past two decades as tens of millions of migrants from other parts of China have moved to the area to find manufacturing jobs.

It is common for people to carry their bags in knapsacks in front of their chests instead of on their backs in many Guangdong cities. Local television sometimes shows gruesome footage of people being dragged behind motorcyles when they refuse to let go of purses grabbed by mobile thieves.

Criminals bent on making speedy getaways are also known for hacking off the hands or arms of victims who hang on to their purses and bags.

Migrants outnumber native residents by several times in many cities in Guangdong, causing a slew of social problems, but analysts also blame a widening wealth gap for rampant crime.

REUTERS CH SND1153

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