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Thursday, 14 February, 2002, 17:01 GMT
Eyewitness: Falun Gong arrests
Canadian protester being detained
Thirty-five Westerners were arrested in November
By the BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Beijing

The arrests of at least 40 foreign followers of the Falun Gong spiritual movement took place during the biggest protest that foreign members of the group have so far attempted to stage in Beijing.

Tiananmen Square was briefly thrown into turmoil as small groups of protesters unfurled banners and began chanting slogans denouncing what they said was the Chinese Government's suppression of the group.

Protests by foreigners
14 Feb: At least 40 foreigners arrested
11 Feb: Two North Americans arrested and later deported
Jan 2002: One Canadian woman protester expelled
Nov 2001: 35 Westerners expelled after protest
Within seconds hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes police began rushing at them from all directions, pinning the protesters to the ground before dragging them to waiting police vans. Sporadic protests continued for more than an hour.

It was apparent from the size of the police operation that they had gained prior intelligence that some kind of large protest was being planned.

In four years of reporting from Beijing it was easily the biggest police presence I have ever seen on Tiananmen Square. But they still failed to prevent the demonstration.

City's image

The involvement of foreigners in such protests adds a new twist to the Falun Gong saga - which will be unwelcome to the Chinese government.

In recent months it has begun to look increasingly as if the government has the Falun Gong on the run.

Thousands of its Chinese followers languish in prison. The once daily protests in Tiananmen Square have been all but stamped out.

With the rest of the world's attention focused on Afghanistan, China has been free to carry on its suppression of Falun Gong with virtual impunity.

But now they have foreigners standing on Tiananmen Square holding up banners and shouting, "Falun Gong is good".

It is something that clearly fills the authorities here with consternation.

In the panic of Thursday's protest, police began hauling away any foreigner who looked even vaguely suspicious.

It is hardly the sort of behaviour becoming of a city that hosts millions of foreign tourists every year, most of whom will want to make at least one visit to Tiananmen Square during their stay.

See also:

14 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
China arrests foreign Falun Gong activists
14 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Four Britons 'expelled from China'
21 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
China expels Western 'cult' members
31 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Falun Gong women die in detention
19 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Heavy sentences for Falun Gong members
17 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
China jails four for 'suicide protest'
22 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Falun Gong protest quashed
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