Chinese official denies reports of deaths at Haimen protest

HONG KONG Wed Dec 21, 2011 12:49am EST

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HONG KONG Dec 21 (Reuters) - A Chinese official denied on Wednesday reports of deaths during clashes in Haimen town in southern China between police and residents protesting against a plan to build a coal-fired power plant.

Thousands of angry residents in the town, part of Shantou city in Guangdong province, surrounded a government building and blocked an expressway on Tuesday, Chinese media reported. Online accounts of the incident had claimed that two people had died.

"There are injuries but we have not heard of deaths," a Shantou government official told Reuters in a telephone interview. He declined to give his name or other information.

A separate dispute in Guangdong province, sparked by anger over seized land in Wukan village and a suspicious death of a protest organiser, appeared to be winding down on Wednesday after a standoff simmered there for more than a week.

Although the two disputes were not related, a resident of Haimen told a Hong Kong newspaper people there had been closely following the Wukan protest.

Protesters dispersed in Haimen late on Tuesday after the government said it would suspend construction of the power station, the South China Morning Post reported.

There was no sign of protests on Wednesday, according to a clerk at a hotel near Haimen.

Students in the town were stopped from leaving schools until late on Tuesday as officials were worried they would join the protesters, the Post quoted Haimen resident Zheng Yanping as saying.

"We call on the central government to help us and allow overseas media to report what's happened because local media won't cover our story," Zheng said.

Thousands of protests occur each year in Chinese villages and towns over a range of issues including pollution, corruption and land grabs.

Zheng said the Wukan protesters had set an example.

"The people of Wukan are a good model. People who fight together can put pressure on the authorities to negotiate, said Zheng."

Wukan villagers, whose anger was exacerbated by the death in custody of an activist, had driven off officials and police as part of their protest.

On Wednesday, government officials offered compromises that a Wukan protest organiser signaled would be acceptable. (Reporting by Alison Leung and Sisi Tang; Editing by Ken Willis and Brian Rhoads)

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