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Small island states and poor African nations vulnerable to climate impacts laid out demands for a legally-binding deal tougher than the Kyoto Protocol.
This was opposed by richer developing states such as China, which fear tougher action would curb their growth.
Tuvalu demanded - and got - a suspension of negotiations until the issue could be resolved.
The split within the developing country bloc is highly unusual, as it tends to speak with a united voice.
"The main task of this (conference) is to adapt an agreed outcome from the Bali Action Plan [agreed in 2007] and we should very much focus on that," said China's lead negotiator Su Wei.
"We have a very valid system to combat climate change."