China urges ban on direct sales as riots kill four

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese authorities urged local governments to enforce a ban on door-to-door sales Thursday after four people were reported killed in riots over the unpopular edict.
Participants in the schemes, akin to pyramid swindles, have besieged sales offices and scuffled with police in at least three Chinese cities. In the southern city of Zhangjiajie, site of one of the most audacious direct sales swindles, at least four people were killed and 40 injured in rioting, a local official said Thursday.
China’s State Council, or Cabinet, issued the ban 10 days ago out of concern that direct marketers were preying on the poor and uneducated and inspiring superstition and cults. Legitimate companies such as U.S.-based Amway and Avon Products were also forced to close.
The State Administration of Industry and Commerce, the regulatory agency enforcing the ban, has indicated that local governments may be resisting efforts to shut down direct marketers.
In a circular issued Wednesday and carried in several national newspapers Thursday, the agency ordered its branches “to resolutely eliminate the interference of local protectionism.”
Anger over the ban and worries by participants that they would lose their money sparked 30 hours of rioting and looting last week in Zhangjiajie, an official in the Communist Party Committee’s Propaganda Department said.
As many as 4,000 people smashed cars and raided stores as tens of thousands of others looked on, said the official, who asked not to be identified. She added that four people were so badly beaten they died later in hospital. Police arrested more than 30 rioters.