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Friday, 16 February, 2001, 18:06 GMT
China plans rural health revolution

FORMERLY CHINA FALUNGONG The Chinese government says it plans to create a new health care system to improve conditions for the vast majority of the population in rural areas.

Few of China's eight-hundred million peasant farmers have any direct access to affordable health care -- a factor which the BBC Beijing correspondent says has caused increasing unrest in the Chinese countryside.

It has also contributed to the growth of the outlawed Falun Gong religious sect.

Our correspondent says the abolition of rural communes twenty years ago left many farmers in fear of becoming sick because they cannot afford a doctor.

The Falun Gong is gaining popular support because it preaches a system of exercise and meditation, which its followers say can prevent disease. China's state-run media says that another Falun Gong member has died after setting himself on fire in Beijing in protest at government policy.

A statement from the Chinese news agency, Xinhua, said that the twenty-five year old man left a six-page letter outlining his reasons for setting himself on fire.

But it had no details of the contents of the letter.

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