Censors kept busy as strike-hit Chinese paper hits newsstands

Thu Jan 10, 2013 7:05am EST
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By James Pomfret

GUANGZHOU, China (Reuters) - A weekly Chinese newspaper at the center of anti-censorship protests appeared on newsstands on Thursday as a newsroom strike ended amid fresh calls for the Communist Party leadership to loosen its grip on the media.

The strike at the Southern Weekly in affluent Guangdong province came after censors watered down a page-two editorial in the New Year edition. Calls for China to enshrine constitutional rights were replaced with comments praising one-party rule.

The rare newsroom revolt at one of China's most respected and liberal papers hit a raw nerve nationwide, with calls for freedom of expression led by bloggers with millions of followers such as actress Yao Chen and writer Han Han.

How the party responds to those calls will be a key indicator of new party leader Xi Jinping's reformist inclinations.

About six protesters were forcibly cleared from the gates of the paper by plainclothes officials on Thursday, shouting as they were bundled into vehicles as dozens of uniformed police officers looked on.

The problem of reconciling the conflict between conservatives and liberals was illustrated in scuffles and heated arguments outside the Southern Weekly's gates all week.

Leftists carrying Mao Zedong posters and red China flags repeatedly abused scores of Southern Weekly supporters for undermining China's socialist system and one-party rule.

"After we have full stomachs, we want to say more. This is normal," said Ye Qiliang, a young man in a brown jacket who opposed the Maoists in one evening protest.   Continued...

Demonstrators hold banners, portraits of China's late Chairman Mao Zedong, and Chinese national flags next to policemen outside the headquarters of Southern Weekly newspaper in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, January 8, 2013. REUTERS/James Pomfret