Women threaten to riot over Chinese harassment

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The Independent Online
LEADERS of an international women's forum threatened riots and boycotts yesterday if the Chinese government failed to end surveillance and harassment of delegates. Separately, a senior American official warned Peking that it was making the UN World Conference on Women, opening tomorrow, "extremely difficult".

The Chinese tactics have overshadowed the arrival in China of the US First Lady, Hillary Clinton, who is due to address the governmental meeting on Tuesday and visit the forum the next day.

Irene Santiago, the forum's executive director, gave the Chinese until noon today to agree to stop censorship and surveillance within the 42- acre site at Huairou, an hour's drive from Peking.

Salamo Fulivai, the forum committee member for the Asia-Pacific area, added that if the Chinese failed to respond, she would ask delegates: "Do you want to cancel? Do you want to boycott? Do you want to riot?" A total of 23,500 delegates are attending the forum, which runs in tandem with the UN conference.

Chinese public security officials have intimidated exiled Tibetans, human rights activists and some foreign journalists attending the forum. Hundreds of plainclothes security officials are positioned within the forum site to photograph targeted delegates and anyone who meets them. Rooms and luggage have been searched, videotapes confiscated, and middle- of-the-night checks made on hotel rooms. Disabled delegates have also complained of surveillance after yesterday organising a protest about lack of access to venues.

As Mrs Santiago was meeting the authorities yesterday, a workshop run by exiled Tibetans was abandoned after more than half the seats were occupied by the official China-backed Tibetan delegation, who started shouting and barracking.

The row in Huairou is also threatening to disrupt the governmental conference. Timothy Wirth, the US Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs, called on the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, to take action to stop intrusive surveillance by China and restrictions on freedom of speech. He said he was being blatantly watched himself.

Britain has lodged a protest about the failure of the Chinese to provide the promised shuttle bus service between Huairou and Peking, seen as another attempt to isolate the forum.

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