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Hundreds protest censorship of Chinese newspaper

Scholars and protesters demand reforms after China's leadership censored an editorial from one of the nation's most daring newspapers.

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"Southern Weekly is known as a newspaper that exposes the truth, but after Tuo Zhen arrived in Guangdong, he constantly pressured the paper. We need to let him know that he can't do this," He said. "This incident is a test to see if the new leadership is determined to push political reform."

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Six weeks ago, China installed a new generation of Communist Party leaders for the next five years, with current Vice President Xi Jinping at the helm. Some of Xi's announcements for a trimmed-down style of leadership, with reduced waste and fewer unnecessary meetings, have raised hopes in some quarters that he might favor deeper reforms in the political system to mollify a public long frustrated by local corruption.

The Guangdong provincial propaganda department did not immediately respond to a faxed list of questions. But the Communist Party-run Global Times newspaper said in an editorial that no Chinese media outlet should fool itself into thinking that it could occupy a "political special zone" in which it is free from government control.

"Regardless of whether these people are willing or unwilling, common sense says: In China's current social political reality, there cannot be the kind of 'free media' that these people hope in their hearts for," the editorial said.

The U.S. State Department said Monday that media censorship is incompatible with China's aspirations to build a modern information-based economy and society. Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said it was interesting that Chinese are now strongly taking up their right to freedom of speech.

"We hope the government is taking notice," she told a news briefing in Washington.

China's media in recent years have become increasingly freewheeling in some kinds of coverage, including lurid reports on celebrities and sports figures. Still, censorship of political issues remains tight — although government officials typically claim there is no censorship at all — and the restrictions have drawn increasingly vocal criticism from journalists and members of the public.

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Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.

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