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Top official meets rioters as China seeks stability

BEIJING (Reuters) - The governor of a Chinese province sat down with protesters after they fought pitched battles with police, a rare concession by a leader and a sign of government concerns about stability as the economy slows.

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Xu Shousheng held a meeting with 10 representatives in Wudu in the poverty-stricken northwestern province of Gansu two days after the riot in which dozens were injured, state media said.

Minister of Human Resources and Social Security Yin Weimin said on Thursday stabilizing employment was the top priority for China as he revealed a rise in jobless workers triggered by a weakened export sector.

The protests were sparked by local residents’ worries about a government resettlement plan after the May 12 earthquake killed more than 80,000 people, and in Gansu alone made 1.8 million people homeless.

Xu told the group he met that the changes in Wudu were only in the planning stage and could be vetoed by the central government. He also promised to protect their livelihoods if the resettlement gets the go-ahead.

After decades of solid economic growth, China is battling an unknown as falling demand for its products triggers factory closures, sparks protests and raises fears of popular unrest.

Taxi drivers in Shantou, a rich city in southern Guangdong province, went on strike on Thursday in protest at the growing number of unlicensed cabs, Chinanews news agency reported.

A taxi driver strike in the southwestern city of Chongqing early this month provoked a series of similar strikes around the nation.

Some 90 petitioners from a rural area protested in front of the provincial government compound in Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang province, on Wednesday, local web portal Dongbei said.

Police detained three of the petitioners, who held banners and blocked the street in front of the compound for an hour, the report said, without giving the cause of the protest.

On the same day, nearly 400 people angry at losses in an illegal Chinese fund-raising scheme gathered in Beijing, Xinhua news agency said.

Estimates of the number who joined in the Gansu violence on the streets of Wudu range from an official total of 2,000 to as high as 20,000 cited by local residents.

They destroyed local buildings, including trade union and commerce offices and a Communist Party discipline headquarters, and afterwards grocery prices went up by nearly half. The riot was broken up with tear gas and at least 30 people were arrested.

Xu said Beijing plans to invest over 20 billion yuan ($2.93 billion) in the area’s infrastructure over the next three years and a major train line set to run through the town should also provide a boost to the local economy.

Reporting by Emma Graham-Harrison and Yu Le; Editing by Nick Macfie and John Chalmers