Apple ends China iPhone store sales after scuffles

The BBC's Michael Bristow in Beijing: "Eggs were thrown, the police were called"

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Apple has halted the sale of all iPhone models from its stores in China, after large crowds disrupted the launch of the iPhone 4S.

An Apple store in the Sanlitun area of Beijing failed to open after a large crowd gathered outside in anticipation of the launch.

The crowd became unruly, throwing eggs. Scuffles broke out with police.

China is the world's largest mobile phone market, and Apple's second-biggest market.

The iPhone 4S, which has voice-activated functions, was being introduced through official Apple stores in China for the first time.

Tough market

At the scene

The scene outside Apple's flagship store in Beijing resembled the aftermath of a major demonstration or a crime scene. Hundreds of people had waited outside the shop all night - in temperatures well below freezing - to buy the new iPhone 4S.

When they realised they were not going to go on sale, those eager customers expressed their anger and disappointment.

The remains of eggs thrown at windows in the initial burst of anger were still smeared on hours later. The shop was cordoned off and closed at a time when there are usually dozens of people milling around inside.

It was a reminder that Chinese shoppers love their consumer goods just as much as anyone else.

Apple said in a statement that it decided not to open its store at Sanlitun "due to the large crowd, and to ensure the safety of our customers and employees".

It also said that it was halting the sale of iPhones at all its retail stores in Beijing and Shanghai "for the time being".

However, Apple said Chinese customers can still purchase the phones either through the Apple online store or at China Unicom and other authorised sellers.

The decision came despite the fact that other stores in Beijing and Shanghai opened without incident and reported rapid sales.

Apple said all iPhone 4Ss were now sold out in stores in China.

'Broke hearts'

Crowds began gathering outside Apple stores overnight. Police were deployed to a number of stores to help control the crowds.

Eggs were thrown at Apple's Sanlitun store in Beijing after it failed to open on Friday at 07:00 local time (23:00 GMT on Thursday) as advertised.

When it was announced that the store would not be opening, there were shouts of "open the door" and "liar".

Customers at the Sanlitun store said they were disappointed.

"I've been waiting here since yesterday afternoon, then this morning they say they won't sell," a man in his 20s told Reuters TV. "They broke customers' hearts."

By about 10:00 in Beijing, the crowds had cleared the area in front of the store.

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