Protest in Philippines over South China Sea stand-off

Activists chant and hold placards outside the Chinese embassy in Manila on 11 May 2012 Organisers said protests were planned in Manila and at other Chinese diplomatic missions

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Several hundred protesters waved flags and placards at the Chinese embassy in Manila, calling for China to withdraw its ships from a South China Sea shoal.

The Philippines deployed more than 100 police near the Chinese Consular Office, said local media, amid rising tension over the month-long row.

The two countries have been locked in a stand-off in disputed waters at the Scarborough Shoal since 8 April.

Both sides accuse each other of intruding into territorial waters.

"Our protest is directed at the overbearing actions and stance of the government in Beijing, which behaves like an arrogant overlord, even in the homes of its neighbours," rally organiser Loida Nicholas Lewis was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.

The row began early last month when the Philippines said its naval ship had found eight Chinese fishing vessels at the shoal, which both sides claim.

Analysis

Despite China's warning to its citizens to stay away from this protest, the atmosphere was calm and peaceful.

Protesters sang the Philippine national anthem, and carried placards that read: "China stop bullying the Philippines", "Make Peace Not War", and "China: Scarborough Shoal Today, Tomorrow the World?"

One of the organisers seized a microphone and compared the Philippine-China row to a fight between David and Goliath. 'David won': she shouted triumphantly to much applause.

But in reality - at least militarily - this David has little hope against China's Goliath. The protesters say that if China won't back down, an international tribunal should decide who owns the Scarborough Shoal.

A number of Chinese and Philippine fishery and coastguard ships remain stationed at the shoal, with both sides refusing to withdraw.

Tours suspended

Philippine officials said the protest was peaceful, with one man prevented by police from burning a Chinese flag.

Organisers had expected 1,000-strong crowd but only about half of that number turned up, reports from the scene said.

Protest organisers say demonstrations were also planned for other Chinese diplomatic missions around the world.

In an advisory, the Chinese embassy in Manila had advised its citizens to stay off the streets.

Meanwhile, China also deployed police outside the Philippine embassy in Beijing, but only a handful of protesters were reported to be there.

Chinese state media reported on Thursday that most travel agencies had suspended tours to the Philippines.

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China is now piling commercial pressure on top of the diplomatic and military pressure ... It's a dangerous dynamic that could escalate much further yet”

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An official at one agency confirmed the suspension to the BBC, while another said clients were being warned not to travel.

China has also warned the Philippines that it was prepared to respond to ''any escalation'' in the maritime situation.

State media has given the issue widespread coverage in recent days, warning of damage to bilateral ties and vowing not to back down.

A Xinhua news agency commentary published late on Thursday said Chinese people "were enraged by the offensive behaviour of the Philippines" over the issue.

The shoal itself, called Huangyan Island by China, is a series of rocks and reefs more than 100 miles (160km) from the Philippines and 500 miles from China.

China claims sovereignty over a large U-shaped area of the South China Sea, bringing it into dispute with several neighbouring countries. In recent months it has grown more assertive over the issue.

Manila has asked China to settle the issue at the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).

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