Falun Gong Protest on National Day
BEIJING (AP) _ Followers of the outlawed Falun Gong sect chanted slogans and raised yellow banners on Tiananmen Square on Sunday, in a burst of protest that defied heavy security meant to ensure patriotic celebrations of China’s National Day.
Uniformed and plainclothes police kicked and pummeled sect members, but as soon as one group was subdued, others would protest. Police closed off parts of Tiananmen, an embarrassing act in China’s most public square on a holiday marking 51 years of communist rule.
Police detained at least 300 protesters in one hour alone. It was one of the largest acts of civil disobedience staged by the group since the first days following the government ban 14 months ago. A U.S.-based Falun Gong activist, in Beijing to help coordinate the protests, reported that 1,000 followers were detained.
Officers forced protesters into police minivans, packing them so tightly the doors would not shut. Several large city buses were brought in to take others away. Dozens more sat on the square, surrounded by security awaiting more vans.
``Falun Gong is not a crime,″ one protester shouted running from police. Others raised banners reading ``Truth, Compassion, Tolerance″ _ the group’s principles.
One middle-aged woman, blood running from her mouth, escaped a clutch of officers who grabbed her again, slapping her head and pulling her into a van. Another ran from police only to have her legs kicked out from under her. Once on the ground, plainclothes police kicked her.
The protests and violence stunned tens of thousands of Chinese tourists _ young children, families, businessmen in suits _ admiring the floral displays set up in the square for National Day. Officers chasing sect members knocked over bystanders.
That the protests occurred proved that ardent Falun Gong devotees remain unbowed, despite police harassment and a smear campaign in state media. Police have detained thousands of followers, often for short periods, since the crackdown, while leaders have been sentenced to prison terms as long as 18 years.
Chinese leaders banned Falun Gong as a threat to communist rule and as a public menace that cheated followers and caused 1,500 deaths. Followers, however, maintain the group’s slow-motion exercises, Taoist and Buddhist cosmology and the teachings of founder Li Hongzhi promote health and morality.
Falun Gong, in a letter recently posted on the group’s U.S. Web site, had warned of protests if police persisted in detaining followers ahead of National Day. At least one American-based activist traveled to Beijing to help coordinate protests, which involved up to 10,000 followers from around China.
Police searched vehicles and trains entering Beijing, Falun Gong and a human rights group reported. Nearby provinces detained 600 followers over the past two weeks to prevent them from streaming into the capital, the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said.
Police detained 38 followers on one train, the Falun Gong activist said in an e-mail to foreign journalists in Beijing. In the northeastern cities of Dalian and Changchun, police asked train passengers to curse Falun Gong or show proof they were not group members, the e-mail said.
The security actions appeared to head off the group’s initial plans for a large-scale protest during the dawn flag-raising on Tiananmen Square _ a centerpiece of the holiday marking the founding of the People’s Republic of China by Mao Tse-tung on Oct. 1, 1949.
More than 100,000 spectators mixed with uniformed police and plainclothes agents. Hundreds of military police surrounded the square, and hundreds more waited in underground walkways for the flag-raising.
The protests began two hours later, after police detained several suspected sect members. As officers gathered around the suspects, sect members in other parts of the square began raising banners and chanting. Followers threw white pamphlets and pale yellow sheets of paper into the air.
To clear the crowds, street cleaning machines drove ahead of the police vans. Inside the vans, Falun Gong followers held up banners. Others leaned out of windows, holding their hands in gestures of prayer.
``Falun Gong is good. Falun Gong is good,″ protesters, mainly middle-aged women in plain dress, chanted in one bus as police tried to shut the windows.