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Thursday, July 22, 1999 Published at 17:29 GMT 18:29 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

China bans sect

The sect claims it has more than 100 million followers

The authorities in China have announced a ban on the quasi-religious Falun Gong sect, declaring it an illegal organisation.

BBC's James Miles: "The authorities have simply lost patience"
The announcement was made on state television following three days of protests by tens of thousands of followers in some 30 cities after the detention of the sect's leaders.

In a sign that Chinese leaders see the movement as a serious threat to law and order, they accuse it of "being engaged in illegal activities, in advocating superstition and spreading fallacies, hoodwinking people, inciting and creating disturbances, and jeopardising social stability".

James Miles says: "Police feared a repeat of April's demonstration"
BBC Correspondent James Miles says the authorities are now clearly engaged in a final round-up of top leaders of this organisation - the fastest growing religious movement in Communist China's modern history.

[ image:  ]
In a sweeping crackdown by police, hundreds of sect supporters have been rounded up and thousands more have been held in stadiums around the country.

But the Hong Kong government has said the sect will remain legal in its territory so long as members did not break the law.

On Thursday morning, the sect's followers continued to protest on mainland China at official attempts to suppress their movement.

In Beijing, devotees again tried to make their way towards the Communist Party headquarters in the centre of the city.

Several hundred of them were seen being put onto buses by police about a kilometre from the party compound and driven away.

On Wednesday, hundreds of others were detained closer to the compound and were taken to two stadiums on the outskirts of the city.

Chinese concern

With discontent growing over unemployment and stagnating incomes, correspondents say that China's leaders are worried that challenges to their rule could quickly lead to even more widespread protests.

[ image: A massive silent protest in April unsettled the Beijing government]
A massive silent protest in April unsettled the Beijing government
The authorities in Beijing appear determined to avoid a repeat of the sit-in demonstration by more than 10,000 Falun Gong devotees outside the party headquarters in April.

In a letter posted on Falun Gong's US Website, Falun Dafa, the group appealed to members to "protect" the sect by organising, explaining their aims to officials and demanding the release of detained members.

Widespread popularity

The scale of these protests is evidence of the enormous popularity of the Falun Gong movement, which has gained the following of millions since it was launched just seven years ago.

[ image:  ]
The sect combines aspects of Buddhism and Taoism with a religious devotion to its leader, a former state grain bureau clerk, Master Li Hongzhi, who moved to the United States two years ago.

The Chinese Government has condemned Master Li's teachings as superstition.

The group itself estimates that it has 100 million followers - a claim that has alarmed the Communist Party, which has 60 million members.

The Chinese authorities said in a televised address in mid-June that Falun Gong members could practise their faith, but warned them against spreading rumours or inciting differences.

Members of Falun Gong say they are not an organised religion.

"A religious group has an organised structure, temples or churches and special rituals. We have none of that," said one member.

Falun Gong members often meet in parks to meditate and do yoga-like exercises.

"We are good people. How can good people be criminals? Why do we have to endure such persecution?" said one message posted on the sect's Web site.

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