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The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Beijing
"Many followers are still managing to slip into Beijing to signal their defiance in the heart of the Chinese capital"
 real 28k

Thursday, 11 May, 2000, 15:01 GMT 16:01 UK
Falun Gong followers held
Police arrest a Falun Gong follower
Police wrestle a protester to the ground
More than 50 followers of the Falun Gong religious movement have been arrested in Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

They were silently marking the birthday of Falun Gong founder, Li Hongzhi, who lives in exile in the United States.

Witnesses said some followers were kicked and beaten by police as they were detained.
falun gong protester
A Falun Gong follower is hauled away

The Chinese Government outlawed Falun Gong last July after branding it an "evil cult". Members say thousands of practitioners have been rounded up since the ban.

Kicking

Followers arrived in Tiananmen Square early in the morning and began meditating in small groups.

Witnesses said demonstrators managed to unfurl large banners bearing the name of their movement before they were arrested.
Falun Gong
The movement claims tens of millions of followers in China

Many were middle-aged women who got quietly into the police vans after being detained.

But reports said one man endured kicking, beating and slapping by plainclothes police as he shouted: "I am practising Falun Gong. What can you do to me?"

Police also forced tourists with cameras to expose their film, and one with a video camera was detained.

Crackdown

Falun Gong, which claimed tens of millions of followers in China before it was outlawed, combines traditional Chinese breathing exercises with Buddhist and Taoist philosophies.

In recent months, practitioners have flocked to Tiananmen Square to protest against the ban.
Li Hongzhi
Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi is in exile

The nationwide crackdown was sparked in April last year after 10,000 followers gathered in Beijing in a silent protest against official harassment.

Key leaders of the group have since been sentenced to up to 18 years in prison.

Earlier this week the authorities said they had accomplished a decisive victory over the movement and that 98% of its followers had recanted.

Protests

In Hong Kong, the only part of China where Falun Gong is not banned, practitioners staged a parade to celebrate Mr Li's birthday.

The Falun Gong movement in New York said the organisation was planning events in 120 cities in 30 countries to mark World Falun Dafa Day on Saturday.

Thursday's protests marked the 48th birthday of Mr Li who has not been seen in public since China banned the movement and put him on its most wanted list.

Victory

Beijing's crackdown has been strongly criticised by Western governments and human rights groups.

But China's state media marked the day with a lengthy commentary declaring a "decisive victory" over Falun Gong.

"This is an important political struggle affecting the country's future and fate and a great dissemination of the scientific Marxist world view," said Xinhua news agency.

"This victory has fundamentally smashed the evil cult organisation of Falun Gong and isolated a small number of hard-liners headed by Li Hongzhi."

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See also:

21 Nov 99 | From Our Own Correspondent
China's perplexing crackdown
22 Jul 99 | Asia-Pacific
The complex Web of Falun Gong
29 Jul 99 | Monitoring
Wanted: Li Hongzhi
19 Sep 99 | Asia-Pacific
China 'detains' sect members
22 Jul 99 | Monitoring
Text of notice banning sect
18 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
China escapes UN censure
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