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Friday, July 23, 1999 Published at 09:51 GMT 10:51 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Chinese sect defies government

Police on patrol in Tiananmen Square after the protest

Chinese police have detained 200 people at a sit-down protest in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, a day after the government banned the Falun Gong religious sect.

The BBC's James Miles reports from Beijing: Falun Gong followers are being sent back home
The sect supporters were taken away from the city centre in police buses and the area was later cordoned off in an apparent attempt to prevent further gatherings.

A small group was also removed from an area near the Communist Party compound. Sect members arriving in Beijing are being sent back home to the provinces.

The Chinese Government banned the sect on Thursday, saying it was an "illegal organisation" that incited disturbances and jeopardises social stability.

[ image: Chinese police have been questioning Falun Gong practitioners]
Chinese police have been questioning Falun Gong practitioners
State-run television and radio have repeatedly broadcast the government's warnings that Falun Gong is now illegal and that no protests by its members are permitted.

The ban also applies to Communist Party members, with the authorities threatening to expel cadres - including high-ranking officials - who refuse to renounce Falun Gong.

The Communist party newspaper, the People's Daily, described the campaign against the sect as a serious ideological and political struggle that would have a bearing on the future of the party and the state.

Legal in Hong Kong

Despite the ban in mainland China, Falun Gong members in Hong Kong have been continuing to protest against the ruling, after the territory's government declared the group was a legally-registered organisation there.

The silent protest by some 50 people outside the official Xinhua news agency complex went into its third day on Friday.

[ image: Sect followers staged a silent - and legal - protest in Hong Kong]
Sect followers staged a silent - and legal - protest in Hong Kong
China said that Hong Kong would decide for itself whether to ban the sect.

Cabinet spokesman Li Bing said: "In Hong Kong, we implement 'one country, two systems'.

"What Hong Kong should do should be decided by the Special Administration Region government based on the Basic Law," he said, referring to the territory's mini-constitution.

China's banned the movement following three days of demonstrations in some 30 cities by thousands of Falun Gong supporters in protest at the detention of 100 sect leaders.

David Willis reports: "Punisment awaits those who refuse to sever their links""
The ban has come under fire from the United States, which urged Beijing to allow followers to express their views freely.

US State Department spokesman James Rubin said: "We are disturbed by reports of the ban and of some heavy-handed tactics being used to prevent Chinese citizens from exercising internationally-protected fundamental rights and freedoms, particularly the freedom of expression, association and assembly and thought, conscience and religion."

Sect's 'evil' leader

The sect has gained a following of millions since it was launched just seven years ago.

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

The sect combines aspects of Buddhism and Taoism with a religious devotion to its leader - Master Li Hongzhi.

Members of Falun Gong say they are not an organised religion with an organised structure, churches or rituals. They often meet in parks to meditate and do yoga-like exercises.

Xinhua denounced Master Li, who lives in exile in the US, as "an evil person who has had an extremely disastrous effect on society".

But he told the AFP news agency that he was shocked by the Chinese authorities' approach to those who practice Falun Gong, describing it as "extremely incomprehensible".

Referring to the suppression of the pro-democracy protest in Tiananmen Square in 1989, Master Li said: "I am deeply worried that another 4 June bloodshed will take place."

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