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Monday, April 26, 1999 Published at 11:00 GMT 12:00 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Chinese fight for right to meditate

It was one of the largest protests since Tiananmen Square

By Duncan Hewitt in Beijing

Thousands of people have taken part in a protest in the Chinese capital Beijing to demand the right to practice a system of meditation.

The protesters say they are angry at an article criticising the movement, known as Falun Gong, and at the detention and beating of a number of its followers in another town.

The BBC's Peter Van Velsen: An unusual sight for the Chinese capital
The protesters sat or stood three or four deep for at least a kilometre along the tree-lined streets opposite the offices of China's Cabinet or State Council, beside the Forbidden City.

Police cordoned off some roads to traffic but generally kept a distance from the largely silent protest.

[ image: Queues of protesters lined the pavement]
Queues of protesters lined the pavement
The participants, many of whom were from the neighbouring province of Hebei, said they did not want to cause trouble but expressed anger at what they called ill-treatment of followers of the Falun Gong movement.

Some said they were demanding the release of 40 or 50 people who were allegedly detained and beaten by police on Friday in the neighbouring city of Tianjin, where they were protesting at an article by a senior academic criticising Falun Gong.

Some participants said a delegation had been allowed into government offices to discuss their grievances but there was no official confirmation.

Millions of followers

The Falun Gong teachings, influenced by Buddhism and Taoism, advocate Qi Gong exercises as a way of achieving self-cultivation and benevolence.

They are thought to have millions of followers, many of them academics and officials. But followers, who say the movement is not a religion, have long complained of discrimination.

Falun Gong was founded in 1992 by Li Hongzhi, who now lives in the United States and no longer lectures in China.

The protest, one of the biggest in the Chinese capital for a decade, is likely to fuel the Chinese Government's concern at the popularity of such movements.

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