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Journalists at a major Chinese paper, Southern Weekly, have gone on strike in a rare protest against censorship, the BBC reported. The row was sparked last week when the paper’s New Year message calling for reform was changed by propaganda officials. Staff wrote two letters calling for the provincial propaganda chief to step down. Another row then erupted over control of the paper’s microblog. Supporters of the paper have gathered outside its office, reports say. Some of the protesters carried banners that read: “We want press freedom, constitutionalism and democracy”. “The Nanfang [Southern] Media Group is relatively willing to speak the truth in China so we need to stand up for its courage and support it now,” Ao Jiayang, one of the protesters said. Police were at the scene but “security wasn’t tight”, a former journalist of the Southern Media Group told the BBC. Southern Weekly is perhaps the country’s most respected newspaper, known for its hard-hitting investigations and for testing the limits of freedom of speech. Chinese media are supervised by so-called propaganda departments that often change content to align it with party thinking. The row erupted after a New Year message which had called for guaranteed constitutional rights was changed by censors into a piece that praised the Communist Party. In response, the newspaper’s journalists called for the Guangdong propaganda chief’s resignation, accusing him of being “dictatorial” in an era of “growing openness”. In two open letters 35 prominent former staff and 50 interns at the paper demanded Tuo Zhen step down, saying the move amounted to “crude” interference. On Sunday night, a message on the newspaper’s official microblog denied that the editorial was changed because of censorship, saying that the “online rumours were false”. Almost 100 editorial staff members have gone on strike, saying the newspaper is under pressure from authorities.