China cools protests over ant aphrodisiac scheme
Chinese officials have sought to head off fresh confrontation after thousands of investors in the northeast protested to demand help getting money back from a get-rich-quick scheme raising ants to make an aphrodisiac tonic.
Several thousand irate investors from across Liaoning, a rustbelt province striving to attract investment, demonstrated around provincial government offices in the capital, Shenyang, in past days.
Provincial officials said they were working to defuse the complaints, avoiding the harsh words that wary authorities often use against protests.
"The provincial government has paid great attention to this situation, and will take appropriate measures within the framework of the law," Zhang Yunqiang, propaganda director of the Liaoning provincial government, told Reuters. "The besieging of the office has gradually eased."
But residents told Reuters officials had set up checkpoints and taken other steps to keep a close eye on potential trouble.
The investors -- many of them laid-off workers or farmers -- put their savings into Shenyang's Yilishen Group for a scheme in which they bred ants to provide ingredients for a health tonic promising an aphrodisiac boost.
For every 10,000 yuan ( 654 pounds) they paid the company as "deposit", investors were promised a dividend of 3,250 yuan.
But since October, the group twice delayed payment of the dividend, fuelling investor fears that it was on the brink of bankruptcy or that the government might have frozen its funds.
A third delay on Tuesday stoked anger among investors, the official, Zhang, said.
He said the government would "urge the Yilishen Group and the breeders to reasonably settle their dispute", but Yilishen was a private company that had "full responsibility for its own profits and losses".
Phone calls to Yilishen went unanswered, and the company has made no public statement.
Chinese media have said the scheme collected more than 10 billion yuan from hundreds of thousands of Liaoning residents. Some reports said the ants were a useless ruse for an illegal fund-raising scam.
While authorities have so far taken relatively mild steps against the protests, they are also wary of another flare-up.
One disgruntled investor surnamed Cong told Reuters that breeders heading to Shenyang had been stopped. In the city itself neighbourhood officials were checking on breeders.
In the small city of Jinzhou, anti-riot police were guarding against protests, said a resident there.