Beijing: Chinese authorities cracked down on activists as a call circulated for people to gather in more than a dozen cities on Sunday for a "Jasmine Revolution" apparently inspired by the wave of pro-democracy protests sweeping the Middle East.
The source of the call was not known, but authorities moved to halt its spread online, and police detained at least 14 people, by one activist's count. Searches for the word "jasmine" were blocked on Saturday on China's largest Twitter-like microblog, and the website where the request first appeared said it was hit by an attack.
Activists seemed not to know what to make of the call to protest, even as they passed it on. They said they were unaware of any known group being involved in the request for citizens to gather in 13 cities and shout, "We want food, we want work, we want housing, we want fairness."
Some even wondered whether the call was "performance art" instead of a serious move in the footsteps of recent protests in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria and Libya.
Always on guard to squelch dissent at home, China's authoritarian government has appeared unnerved by the events in the Middle East. It has limited reporting, stressing the instability caused by protests in Egypt, and has restricted Internet searches to keep people uninformed.
Authorities appeared to be treating the protest call seriously. Families and friends reported the detention or harassment of several activists, and some said they were warned not to participate Sunday.
Police pulled Beijing lawyer Jiang Tianyong into a car and drove away, his wife, Jin Bianling, said. She told The Associated Press by phone that she was still waiting for more information Saturday night.
Su Yutong, an activist who now lives in Germany, said that even if Chinese authorities suspect the call to protest wasn't serious, Saturday's actions showed they still feared it.
"If they act this way, they'll push this performance art into the real thing," she said in an e-mail.
In a Twitter post, Su listed at least 14 people who had been taken away and called that count incomplete.
Tensions were already high in recent days after a video secretly made under house arrest by one of China's best-known activist lawyers, Chen Guangcheng, was made public. Chen and his wife reportedly were beaten in response, and some of Chen's supporters reported being detained or beaten by authorities after meeting to discuss his case.
The call for a Jasmine Revolution came as President Hu Jintao gave a speech to top leaders Saturday, asking them to "solve prominent problems which might harm the harmony and stability of the society." Hu told the senior politicians and officials to provide better social services to people and improve management of information on the Internet "to guide public opinion," the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
The ruling Communist Party is dogged by the threat of social unrest over rising food and housing prices and other issues.
In the latest price increase, the National Development and Reform Commission announced Saturday that gasoline and diesel prices would be raised by 350 yuan ($ 53) per ton.
Meanwhile, Shanghai became the latest city to place new limits on housing purchases to tamp down soaring home prices. Residents who already own two or more homes in Shanghai would be prohibited from buying more, while outsiders would be limited to one, Xinhua reported.
The call to protest was first posted on the US-based Chinese-language website Boxun.com. "Boxun has no way to verify the background of this and did not participate," it said.
The Boxun site was unavailable Saturday, and reported being attacked.
"This is the most serious denial of service attack we have received," it said in a statement. "We believe the attack is related to the Jasmine Revolution proposed on February 20 in China."