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Friday, 22 March, 2002, 08:48 GMT
China labour protest suspended
Liaoyang protest, banner says: Strongly demanding the authorities release people
Protests are stretching into a third week in the region
Chinese workers have suspended a labour protest in the city of Liaoyang in the country's economically depressed north-east.

The decision was made in the hope that the authorities would deliver on a promise to release four detained labour leaders if the demonstration stopped.

We did not take to the streets this morning, with all the hope for them to be free soon

Relative of detained Liaoyang leader
The authorities have stepped up their efforts to quell the protests by unemployed workers in the region, using military police roadblocks to prevent protesters getting through.

But in the oil producing city of Daqing, also in the north-east, mass protests were reported to have continued, though on a smaller scale.

Armed police have been deployed in large numbers in Liaoyang, but so far no violence has been reported.

The large-scale deployment followed indications that officials were losing patience with the protests - some of the largest and most sustained of recent years.

Release promise

After days of demonstrations by laid-off workers demanding blocked severance benefits and owed pay, the authorities in Liaoyang arrested the four detained labour leaders this week.

"One detainee told his family that the police and government officials promised to release them soon if the workers stop their demonstration," said a relative of one of the four.

"We did not take to the streets this morning, with all the hope for them to be free soon. But he did not say how long it might be before the four were freed," she added.

Most of the disaffected workers protesting in Liaoyang were employees of the Ferroalloy factory which went bankrupt last year.

According to workers in Liaoyang more than half of the population is now out of work.

Armed police

Millions of Chinese workers have lost their jobs in the last decade, especially in the industrial north-east, as the government has tried to reform loss-making state-owned companies.

Our crude production has not been affected at all. Actually, crude output was 4,000 tonnes above the planned production every day

PetroChina spokesman

Earlier this week, Liaoyang's government declared the protests illegal.

So far labour leaders in Daqing, China's leading oil producing city, appear to have remained untouched, but armed military police have been deployed there too.

There have been reports of some minor clashes with the police, but according to locals there were fewer protesters demonstrating on Friday because the oil companies were promising more welfare benefits.

Military police in Liaoyang
Troops have been deployed in both cities

Officials from PetroChina have been distributing leaflets and appearing on television to tell protesters that misunderstandings were to blame for the discontent.

"We are actively explaining our policy and calming down the protesters," said one company spokesman.

"Our crude production has not been affected at all. Actually, crude output was 4,000 tonnes above the planned production every day," he added.

The BBC's Duncan Hewitt
"The government does appear to have calmed things down"
See also:

19 Mar 02 | Business
China's unemployment challenge
18 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
Chinese labour protests spread
13 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
Chinese oil workers in massive protest
21 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Chinese labour activist jailed
19 Sep 01 | Business
Inside China: Workers on the move
11 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
China unveils huge welfare plan
07 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Rising child labour in China
03 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
China's state industries cut losses
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