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The BBC's Duncan Hewitt
"Around 2,000 staff have not been paid for up to 16 months"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 16 May, 2000, 15:58 GMT 16:58 UK
Mass labour protest in China
Migrant workers, Beijing
China has a growing unemployment problem
More than 1,000 factory workers demanding unpaid wages have besieged a city hall in north-east China after violent clashes with police.

The protesters, employees of a state-owned metal alloy factory in Liaoyang, say they have not been paid for up to 16 months.

Factory officials said the crisis erupted on Monday when 600 workers blocked the main highway to the provincial capital Shenyang.

Reports said hundreds of armed police moved in at midnight to clear the highway and dozens of people were injured.

At least three organisers were detained, according to human rights groups.

Demands

But the protesters regrouped on Tuesday morning, besieging the city hall.
Factory workers
Millions of redundancies are predicted this year

At least 1,000 workers surrounded the building, calling on the mayor to listen to their demands, according to reports.

Protesters hung banners on the building saying "Arrears guilty", and demanded the immediate release of the three detained workers.

One official confirmed that around 2,000 staff had not been paid for up to 16 months, while a similar number of retired and laid-off workers had received no benefits for up to six months.

Police have denied that dozens of workers were injured when they broke up Monday's protest.

Losing money

The factory, one of the largest in Liaoyang province, lies in an area which was once China's heavy industrial heartland - but is now littered with closed and decaying state enterprises.

One official told Reuters news agency that the company had been losing money for more than five years.

"Perhaps I will join in, too," he added. "I haven't been paid for 24 months and I have borrowed money from relatives and friends."

Unemployment

Reuters said unemployment in the worst-hit city of Liaoning was running as high as 90%.

China's Government has admitted that unpaid wages and benefits are a major cause of social instability, and has promised to address the problem.

Yet many state firms are struggling to keep afloat, and at least seven million redundancies are predicted this year.

Analysts say concerns about the impact of increased foreign competition on ailing state industries lie behind Beijing's unwillingness to open its markets much further, in its current talks with the European Union on China's membership of the World Trade Organisation.

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