01/09/2013, 00.00
CHINA
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Southern Weekend wins battle against censorship

Journalists at one of China's better known weekly papers are told that the province's chief censor would be eventually removed, and that they would not be punished for going on strike. Although party loyalists have branded them "traitors", their support base has grown.

Guangzhou (AsiaNews/Agencies) - After a 3-day stand-off, Southern Weekend reporters have won their battle. Guangdong party leaders seem disposed to remove Tuo Zhen, the provincial propaganda chief, and pledged not to take action against the journalists for their protest. In exchange, the latter will go back to work.

A source close to the newspaper's editorial staff said that Hu Chunhua, a rising political star who took up his new position as the province's party secretary only last month, personally stepped into the talks between reporters and the management.

The dispute itself began on 1 January when the Southern Weekend, one of the most widely read papers in China, wanted to publish an editorial stressing the importance of the country's constitution as the path for its greatness.

Tuo Zhen, a former reporter and the current provincial party propaganda chief, forced the paper to publish an article praising the party. "We are closer than ever before to our dreams," the article's headline read.

Reporters were furious at the meddling, especially over the paper's front page and the editorial's headline, and went on strike seeking redress.

Scores of people gathered in front of the newspaper's headquarters. Movie stars Yao Chen (who quoted Solzhenitsyn on her weibo account) and Chen Kun came out in favour of the journalists.

Caught between angry youth and the old guard, party loyalists quickly replied, branding demonstrators for press freedom as "traitors". Yesterday, the two groups clashed in front of the newspaper, but police did not intervene.

It is not clear what will happen to Tuo Zhen, the journalists' real target. In two open letters to the authorities, they accused him of being a harsher censor than the party central committee.

Citing party sources, Reuters reported party chief Hu agreed that Tuo would eventually be removed, but that he could not go immediately in order to save face.

Whatever the outcome, it is clear that the protest has shaken Communist China's new leaders.

Led by Xi Jinping, the party's 'fifth generation' of leaders is getting ready to take over. This is raising hopes for reform in China and the world, once the transition of power is completed in March. For now, the handling of the Guangdong protests is a good sign.

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