Winnie's path blocked after late arrival

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The Chinese authorities are finding the thousands of women activists attending the World Conference on Women in Peking to be awkward guests, writes Teresa Poole.

Yesterday, Winnie Mandela was involved in a scuffle with security guards, about 150 women singing "We Shall Overcome" broke through a police cordon, and Baroness Chalker gave her hosts a lecture on how to behave.

Mrs Mandela broke the cardinal rule for all guests in China: do not be late. Arriving after the specified time at the Great Hall of the People, the estranged wife of South Africa's President, Nelson Mandela, met her match when Chinese security guards refused to allow her into the conference's opening extravaganza.

The infuriated Mrs Mandela appeared to be unaware that one should allow ample time for security at any function organised by the Chinese government.

Despite heated exchanges and some pushing and shoving, she and a number of South African delegates accompanying her failed to persuade the security guards to let them in to the hall.

About 50 other women were also barred, some because time ran out for the huge queues to pass through security, others because they did not have the correct passes. "No one has given us any explanation, including the other women here . . . I don't understand these people," said Mrs Mandela.

She is not a member of the official South African delegation to the conference, but may participate in the parallel Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) Forum in Huairou, outside Peking, which has been dogged by controversy over China's massive security operation.

Yesterday 150 women broke through a cordon marking the boundary of the Huairou site, defying a Chinese order to confine demonstrations to the site. "Stop, stop," the police said, holding up their hands. "Let's go, let's go," the women responded. Singing "We Shall Overcome", they crossed the "red line" demarcated by Chinese police.

The marchers, the vanguard of a candle-light demonstration to protest against violence and discrimination towards women, turned back when confronted by a second line of young policewomen. "While we accept that China has a different way of life, this is a UN conference, not a Chinese conference. If they invite the UN here, they should keep to UN rules," Lady Chalker, who is leading Britain's delegation, said yesterday.

People were being followed at the NGO forum, she said, and while this was not commonplace "the fact that it is happening at all is obviously against the UN regulations for such a conference".