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File Photo: A police officer wears a face mask as he keeps watch in front of Tiananmen Gate on a polluted day in Beijing, China, January 3, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

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BEIJING (Reuters) - Police in the Chinese capital have warned against illegal gatherings after they shut down part of a major road when demonstrators gathered to stage a rare protest in Beijing, complaining the government was unfairly targeting a charity.

While there are thousands of protests every year in China over everything from pollution to corruption, large protests are rare in heavily guarded and affluent Beijing, with the ruling Communist Party valuing stability above all else.

State news agency Xinhua said late last week police had detained executives from a company called Shanxinhui, accusing them of operating a pyramid scheme and duping people out of money in the name of raising funds to help the poor.

Beijing police said in a statement late on Monday "certain members of Shanxinhui were incited by those with ulterior motives to come to Beijing and illegally gather, seriously disturbing social order in the capital".

Their behaviour was "suspected of offending against laws and rules" and police were able to convince the demonstrators to leave in an orderly manner, it said.

Some people had been detained for "taking the lead" in creating trouble and refusing to listen to instructions, the police said, without elaborating.

There was no sign of any protesters on Tuesday morning, with a light but noticeable presence of police officers and vehicles in and around the small convention centre in the working class neighbourhood of southern Beijing where the demonstrators had gathered.

Investors in the company, some of whom had also gathered in small groups on the street, told Reuters on Monday they had come to complain that Shanxinhui had been dealt a huge injustice and that it had genuinely helped a lot of poor people.

Beijing police said in their statement it was against the law to organise "illegal gatherings" and those who do so would be punished.

The statement did not provide an estimate of the numbers of protesters.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Paul Tait)

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Reuters