Unrest down "greatly" in China's Guangdong

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BEIJING, Oct 16 (Reuters) Mass protests and riots in China's southern boom province of Guangdong have dropped ''greatly'' in recent years thanks to government efforts to solve social conflicts, its Communist Party chief said today.

Guangdong, with nearly 100 million people, has been a dynamo of China's economic growth since reforms started nearly 30 years ago. Last year, the province, which borders Hong Kong, accounted for an eighth of the country's overall economic growth.

Yet years of anything-goes economic expansion have given rise to a raft of problems from energy and labour shortages to corruption, including a handful of high profile crises since current Party boss Zhang Dejiang took office in 2002.

''In general, the economy in Guangdong is prosperous, and the situation is stable,'' Zhang told reporters on the sidelines of a key Communist Party Congress where social stability is one of the top issues.

But he admitted existing social conflicts had caused ''mass incidents'' -- a euphemism for popular protests and riots.

''For example, conflicts occured in some land use cases. But to develop cities, infrastructure and industry, it is a must to confiscate some land from farmers,'' added the North Korea-trained economist.

In 2005, Guangdong police opened fire on farmers who were protesting against government efforts to build a power plant on their land, which drew international attention and criticism from human rights organisations.

Zhang said the number of mass incidents had declined by a quarter in 2006 compared to the previous year, and in the first eight months of this year the number continued to fall by about the same degree.

''The numbers of mass incidents in the past few years have fallen greatly,'' he said. ''We have left no stone unturned in solving social problems, and are dealing well with the relationship between development and stability.'' REUTERS GL HT1417

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