Associated Press Newswires
BEIJING (AP) - In a swirl of chaos, Chinese police detained dozens of Falun Gong protesters who unfurled banners and meditated Tuesday on Tiananmen Square, defiantly marking a massive demonstration a year ago that prompted a government ban on the spiritual movement.
Despite swarms of plainclothes and uniformed police who patrolled the vast square, small-scale protests erupted in all directions. One group of 15 people sat down together to meditate and were pulled to their feet and pushed into a minibus.
Police quickly tackled four people who unfurled a banner, punching one man in the face. Police muzzled a middle-aged woman and pulled her backward as she tried to yell. A group of at least six other women, all carrying children in their arms, were bundled into a van on the square's edge.
More than 100 people were taken away, with most arrests occurring in the morning.
"The Great Way of Falun is good," shouted one middle-aged protester, leaning out of a police bus window, his fist raised.
Adding to the chaos were throngs of Chinese tourists who excitedly ran across the square to glimpse the rare acts of civil disobedience. Police, sometimes using bullhorns on their vans, shouted at bystanders to disperse.
Foreign tourists also watched, mouths agape in surprise. Police made an American woman rip the film out of her camera because they suspected her of photographing an arrest. A tour guide told one group of American tourists not to photograph anyone in uniform.
The charged atmosphere and firmly executed, sometimes violent, arrests contrasted with the event practitioners were commemorating. On April 25 last year, 10,000 followers surrounded the communist leadership's compound near Tiananmen, meditating in silence for a day to protest official harassment.
Then police kept their distance. But the group's ability to mobilize followers alarmed Chinese leaders. President Jiang Zemin ordered a crackdown. In July, Falun Gong was officially proscribed, its leading members arrested and its rank-and-file told to recant or face jail. In the year since the April 25 demonstration, 35,000 followers have been detained, with another 5,000 sent without trial to labor camps, a New York-based spokeswoman for Falun Gong said in a statement.
At least 16 followers have died in custody, either from abuse or from hunger strikes, since the July ban, a Hong Kong-based group, the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said. In the latest case, police in the eastern city of Shouguang beat to death 40-year-old practitioner Li Huixi and cremated his body without first informing his family, the group said Tuesday. The government says detained practitioners have died from suicide or health problems, but not from official mistreatment.
Falun Gong attracted millions of followers with its blend of traditional beliefs, slow-motion exercises and the ideas of founder Li Hongzhi, a former government grain clerk who now lives in New York. Followers say Falun Gong promotes health and good citizenship.
The government says Falun Gong is an evil cult that threatened public order and Communist Party rule. It also says the movement has caused 1,559 deaths among followers.
The government declared victory anew against the group Tuesday, but said foreign supporters, which it did not identify, were keeping the movement alive.
"Our struggle to combat the Falun Gong cult has registered a success," Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi said, adding that 98 percent of group followers had left the sect. He said group leaders persisted in "creating trouble."
In response to the suppression and a smear campaign in state media, Falun Gong followers have staged daily protests in Tiananmen Square - a difficult feat in the most sensitive part of the tightly controlled capital.
Tuesday's demonstrations were larger than usual. Police rushed from one part of the square to another putting a stop to the outbursts. Police confiscated film and videotapes and detained at least eight foreign reporters, including an Associated Press photographer and a producer with Associated Press Television News.
Protesters included all types of Chinese, evidence of the group's popularity: elderly women, young men, a man in a civil servant's uniform. In one busload of detainees, a woman held her young daughter, who was wailing.
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