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Friday, July 23, 1999 Published at 04:19 GMT 05:19 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

China media attacks Falun Gong

Protestors of all ages have continued their silent demonstrations

By James Miles in Beijing

The official Chinese media have kept up a barrage of criticism of the newly-outlawed religious sect, Falun Gong.

State-run television and radio have been repeating government orders that citizens must not take part in protests relating to the cult - whose members have staged the most extensive demonstrations in China since the Tiananmen Square unrest 10 years ago.

[ image: Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi]
Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi
The Chinese Communist Party's flagship newspaper, the People's Daily, has given saturation coverage to the party's open declaration of war on Thursday against the Falun Gong sect.

In an editorial obviously placed in the newspaper by the country's top leadership, the People's Daily described the campaign as "a serious ideological and political struggle that would have a bearing on the future of the Communist Party and the state".

It may sound extraordinary that a sect whose members are known to most Chinese as ordinary people who gather by roadsides and parks in the morning to practice slow motion exercise routines, has become a key political pre-occupation in China.

But this is indeed a major struggle within the Party itself.

[ image: A woman weeps as she is taken away by police]
A woman weeps as she is taken away by police
The move, it seems, was prompted less by the growing popularity of cults and folk religion among ordinary people than by the growing indifference of party members to the ideology they're supposed to uphold.

April's mass demonstration by more than 10,000 sect members outside the leadership's headquarters in central Beijing brought to light a serious breakdown of discipline within the Party's ranks.

Given the sect's popularity among all walks of life - including party members - some officials and even members of the security forces must have known in advance that the protest would take place.

Yet because of their allegiance to the cult, they apparently did nothing to prevent the protest from happening - despite the government's long-standing orders that no unauthorised demonstrations are to be tolerated in the city centre.

That some members of an avowedly atheist party should display more reverence to a sect leader living in the United States than to the Politburo is clearly a major reason why the ban on the cult was eventually ordered.

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