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Police strike openly at Falungong protesters

By Mary Kwang, The Straits Times, 23 July 2000

Earlier, China police attempted to shield their actions from public sight. Now they pounce on protesters and drag them openly to waiting buses

BEIJING -- Police action against Falungong protesters turned more violent yesterday, the first anniversary of the Chinese government's ban on the cult.

Scores of followers braved the searing 36-deg-C heat to converge on Tiananmen Square, defying the heavy police presence.

There seemed to be design behind their action as small groups of adherents dispersed themselves at various points over the square. Sporadically, a group and then another would unfurl Falungong banners or sit in the lotus position.

Many of them, by their dress and accent, appear to be from outside Beijing.

As soon as the protesters revealed themselves, the police pounced on them, dragging them, screaming and kicking, to waiting buses.

Unlike in the past few days when the police attempted to shield their actions from public sight, the officers yesterday openly struck out at protesters who refused to be led away. The pockets of violence were witnessed by tourists milling about the square. Some tourists had film ripped out of their cameras.

Yesterday's demonstrations replayed what had taken place at Tiananmen Square daily over the past week, when sect members exploited the three-day state visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin and two Falungong anniversaries to showcase their defiance.

A year ago last Thursday, the government rounded up key cult leaders, and two days later, outlawed the sect.

According to reports, more than 100 followers have been arrested here each day last week. Sect members have staged protests here over the past year.

A Xinhua commentary, published in major newspapers here yesterday, said that in the last two months, the US-based Li Hongzhi, the sect's founder, had transmitted orders via the Internet, urging his followers to confront the government.

Since the start of June, illegal activities organised by the Falungong in the Tiananmen area have increased.

Still, the Chinese government claims a decisive victory over the cult, saying that the year-long anti-Falungong campaign had thinned the sect's ranks from two million to 40,000 in China. So far, 98 per cent of practitioners have resumed their normal lives, said Xinhua.

Yet, the government said the fight was far from over. The China Daily yesterday said: Li Hongzhi, the cult's leader, and his... followers... have not ceased to encourage people to confront the Chinese government.