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Tuesday, November 16, 1999 Published at 03:58 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Falun Gong protest quashed

Police moved in as protesters raised a banner

Followers of the outlawed Falun Gong movement have been rounded up in the Chinese capital Beijing as they appealed for help from visiting UN chief Kofi Annan.

Uniformed and plainclothes police pounced on around 40 protesters as they held up a red banner in Tiananmen Square and raised their arms to do meditation exercises.

[ image: Followers continued their excercises as police rounded them up]
Followers continued their excercises as police rounded them up
Several foreign journalists were also detained and their film was confiscated, according to the news agency AFP.

Members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement have urged Mr Annan, the United Nations Secretary-General, to investigate human rights violations in China during his visit.

Beijing has branded the group an ''evil cult'' and passed legislation designed to wipe it out.

The authorities have already charged more than 100 followers. Four of them were jailed for between two and 12 years last week in the first reported trial.

Other Falun Gong members have been rounded up and sent for re-education or sentenced without trial to labour camps.

Mr Annan, who is due to meet President Jiang Zemin on Tuesday, has said he is puzzled by Beijing's behaviour and will raise the issue during his visit.

'Illegal detentions'

Falun Gong adherents in Beijing, Shanghai and the provinces of Jilin, Sichuan and Hebei have written five letters to Mr Annan, according to the Hong Kong-based Information Centre of Human Rights & Democratic Movement in China.

[ image: Plainclothes officers cart off the demonstrators]
Plainclothes officers cart off the demonstrators
The letters ask the UN to carry out an independent study to evaluate whether Falun Gong is a cult.

They say members of the movement are being detained illegally and beaten up in custody. And they ask the UN to send observers to trials of the group's leaders.

Falun Gong, which teaches a blend of Buddhism, Taoism and exercise, boasted millions of followers in China before the crackdown.

But the ruling Communist Party, alarmed by the movement's rapid growth and its international links, has branded it a threat to social and political stability.

China's leadership was stunned when 10,000 members descended on Tiananmen Square in April to demand official recognition of their faith.

Officials estimate that more than 1,000 followers have converged on the square in recent protests.

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