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Tuesday, April 27, 1999 Published at 11:44 GMT 12:44 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Beijing to meet sect protesters

Police did not act against the protesters

The Chinese Government has agreed to listen to the grievances of the sect members who staged a massive demonstration in Beijing over the weekend.

But a government spokesman reprimanded the members of the Falun Gong sect for demonstrating over their right to engage in the sect's Qi Gong meditation practices.

"The government has never banned various 'Qi Gong' activities, so any controversy can be settled through normal channels," a State Council spokesman said.

"But these people ... should not influence public order and the lives of the people," he said.

The state council complaints bureau had been ordered to meet with the demonstrators, the spokesman said.

Major demonstration

[ image: It was one of the biggest demonstrations since the Tiananmen Square protests]
It was one of the biggest demonstrations since the Tiananmen Square protests
Thousands of people gathered in Beijing over the weekend in one of the largest demonstrations seen there since the crushing of the pro-democracy movement in 1989.

The protesters said they were angry at an article by a senior academic criticising 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 a critical article.

The protesters sat or stood three or four deep for at least a kilometre along the tree-lined streets opposite the State Council offices, beside the Forbidden City.

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

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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