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China urges the Philippines to ensure citizens' safety

The monthlong standoff between China and the Philippines over a South China Sea shoal is snowballing. Ahead of anti-Chinese protests in Manila, China cancelled flights to the Philippines.

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China on Thursday urged the Philippines to ensure the safety of its citizens ahead of planned anti-Chinese protests, as tensions mount over a territorial standoff in the resource-rich South China Sea.             

A protest of about 1,000 people, organised for Friday in Manila by Philippine civil society and political groups, risks worsening strains over the disputed waters, thought to posses abundant oil and gas reserves and fishing stocks.             

The two countries are engaged in a more than month-long confrontation that began when Manila sent a warship to check on Chinese fishing boats in the region, and escalated to involve four Chinese maritime surveillance ships.             

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the protest plans have "aroused the concern and strong reaction of the Chinese public at home and abroad."             

"China is paying close attention to the safety of the Chinese people and institutions in the Philippines, and demands that the Philippines provide effective assurances for theirsafety," Hong told reporters at a regular press briefing.             

Chinese travel agencies have suspended tourist packages to the Philippines and promised refunds to customers who have booked trips, Chinese state media reported Thursday, as tensions over disputed islands in the South China Sea escalated.                           

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