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Chinese Factory Owners Protest Deadbeats

About 100 factory owners and employees protested Friday, demanding officials help them collect $13 million in debts from an electronics factory that recently closed.

GUANGZHOU, China (AP) -- About 100 factory owners and employees held up red protest banners outside a government building Friday in southern China, demanding that officials help them collect more than $13 million in debts from an electronics factory that recently closed.

The demonstration in Guangzhou was one of many in recent months in Guangdong -- one of China's wealthiest and most industrialized provinces -- where thousands of factories have shut down this year. Most of the protests have involved laid-off workers, and Friday's event was a sign that anger about the ongoing economic woes was bubbling up to the managers and owners of small factories.

Those who joined Friday's demonstration said they owned or worked at businesses that supplied parts to Dongfang Redpower Electronics Co. Ltd., which makes DVD, audio and GPS systems for cars.

One of the protest leaders, Zhang Ruimei, said that the company owes its suppliers 90 million yuan ($13.14 million) but the owners have skipped off to Hong Kong.

Zhang said the group had also protested outside Redpower's factory in the township of Hengli in the nearby city of Dongguan on Wednesday, but police broke up the demonstration with clubs and tear gas. She said a dozen people were hurt.

"When we talked to the local officials, they just said to us that there's a global financial crisis, and we're not the only ones who have lost money. They didn't want to do anything," said Zhang, who runs a mold-making factory that employees 10 people. She said Redpower owes her 210,000 yuan ($31,000).

Phones rang unanswered at Redpower's factory, and police at Hengli township said they weren't authorized to discuss the issue. Police in Dongguan also declined to answer questions when called by The Associated Press.

On Friday, about 100 protesters lined up peacefully on a sidewalk in front of a government building on one of the busiest roads in central Guangzhou, the provincial capital.

As about 20 police surrounded them, the protesters held up long red banners that urged officials to crack down on corrupt businessmen and protect the interests of small- and medium-sized enterprises. After several hours, the police made the protesters put down the banners and move to a side street beside the government building.

Even before the global financial crisis erupted, factories in Guangdong were struggling. Many were hit hard by rising wages, currency fluctuations and the rising cost of fuel and raw materials. More than 7,000 companies in the province closed down or moved elsewhere in the first nine months of the year, the official China Daily newspaper recently reported.

Last week, a riot erupted at a toy factory that laid off hundreds of workers in Dongguan. The laborers flipped over a police car and pushed their way through the gates of the factory, where they smashed computers and trashed offices.

Factory workers aren't the only angry ones. Taxi drivers have been striking across China, protesting high fuel costs, operating fees and competition from unlicensed cabs. About half the drivers in Guangzhou -- which has nearly 17,500 cabs -- stayed home on Monday, creating a transport nightmare for customers.

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