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U.S. businessman says he's a hostage in China

June 24, 2013 at 9:20 PM   |   Comments

BEIJING, June 24 (UPI) -- An American businessman said Monday he was still being held hostage by employees of his factory on the outskirts of Beijing.

Chip Starnes, the 42-year-old co-founder of Coral Gables, Fla., company Specialty Medical Supplies, told The Wall Street Journal about 80 of his 110 workers have prevented him from leaving the plant since Friday.

The workers are demanding severance packages, believing his plans to move part of his alcohol pad and diabetes equipment manufacturing operations to India mean they will be out of work, Starnes told the U.S. business newspaper.

"What they don't understand is that they aren't losing their jobs," he said, noting he will need more than 100 workers at the 10-year-old Beijing-area plant to make alcohol pads.

Starnes said he hadn't been physically harmed, but the employees had deprived him of sleep by making jarring noises and shining bright lights in his eyes, the Journal said.

"After 10 years in China, I never would have imagined this would have happened," he said.

"Thankfully when I built the place, I put a toilet in it [his office]."

The newspaper said while workers at the site said from behind a locked gate they had no desire to talk to the media, they didn't stop Starnes from speaking to reporters through a window.

A local public security bureau spokesman said officials moved to get the two sides negotiating and make sure Starnes is fed and safe, the Journal said.

Starnes said he called the U.S. Embassy during the weekend.

"Unfortunately, this situation is a civil dispute, so there's little I can do but wait it out," he said.

The Journal said U.S. Embassy officials were not immediately available for comment.

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