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Shanghai crowds protest high-tech train

The city acknowledges public concerns after demonstrations over potential health risks.

January 15, 2008|From the Associated Press

SHANGHAI — Protests by Shanghai residents over the proposed extension of a high-tech train line forced the government to acknowledge widespread public concern, in the latest standoff between China's communist authorities and urban middle-class.

Shanghai officials did not directly comment on the demonstrations, but a statement the city government posted Monday on the Environment Bureau's website said it was gathering opinions on the extension and taking public concerns "very seriously."

Over the last weekend, hundreds of people defied bans on public demonstrations over the potential health risks of the showcase project.

The crowds staged what they called "strolls" through a busy square and at a popular shopping street to protest extending the magnetic levitation train line.

"Oppose the maglev! Resist radiation! Save the children!" some in the crowd shouted, according to cellphone videos posted on Chinese websites and YouTube.

The government spokesman's office struck a solicitous tone but warned people against further protests.

"City planning and environmental departments are very cautious and take very seriously these concerns," the statement said, urging the public not to "disrupt social stability."

It was the second time in two years that the costly, high-profile, German-made maglev has generated protests in Shanghai, China's commercial center. The government's response underscores how delicately authorities must deal with Chinese who want a say in protecting the homes, jobs and other benefits their rising living standards have afforded.

Shanghai has the world's only commercially operating maglev, which uses powerful magnets to suspend the train above a track and propel it at speeds of up to 280 mph.

The showcase project has struggled to prove its viability, however.

Some protesters feared their homes would be affected by supposed radiation from the maglev.

It was unclear whether this concern has any validity.

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