Thursday, July 22, 1999 Published at 23:07 GMT 00:07 UK
US condemns Chinese sect ban
"Communist Party members not allowed to practise Falun Gong"
The United States has criticised China's decision to ban the quasi-religious Falun Gong sect, describing the move as "heavy-handed tactics".
It followed three days of protests by tens of thousands of followers in some 30 cities after the detention of the sect's leaders.
The US State Department Spokesman, James Rubin, urged Beijing to allow followers of the movement to express their views in accordance with China's international human rights commitments.
He noted that many of the sect's followers appeared to be middle-aged women and that its demonstrations were peaceful.
But a BBC correspondent in the US capital, Rob Watson, says the criticism was gentle - reflecting Washington's deeper concerns about antagonising Beijing at a time of tension between China and Taiwan.
The Chinese leadership accused the sect of being "engaged in illegal activities, in advocating superstition and spreading fallacies, hoodwinking people, inciting and creating disturbances, and jeopardising social stability".
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 do not break the law".
The Falun Gong movement has gained a following of millions since it was launched just seven years ago.
The sect combines aspects of Buddhism and Taoism with a religious devotion to its leader - Master Li Hongzhi, a former state grain bureau clerk who moved to the United States two years ago.
Mr Li told the BBC the organisation had no political motives. He expressed regret at the ban and said he would return to China if the government asked him.
The Chinese Government has condemned Master Li's teachings as "superstition".
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.
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.
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.