Police crack down on protests on anniversary of Falun Gong ban

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The Independent Online

Falun Gong followers marked the first anniversary of China's banning of the meditation group Saturday, unfurling banners and meditating in scattershot protests that were snuffed out within seconds by legions of police.

Falun Gong followers marked the first anniversary of China's banning of the meditation group Saturday, unfurling banners and meditating in scattershot protests that were snuffed out within seconds by legions of police.

Beijing's sprawling Tiananmen Square has been a popular venue for the protests, which usually involve individuals or small groups. But on Saturday morning, about 25 protesters managed to raise a banner and block police from immediately seizing it.

Police - some in green uniforms, others in t-shirts and shorts - eventually shoved their way into the scrum and grabbed the banner. They dragged one man away from the scene by his ankles.

About 100 people were rounded up Saturday morning, and more were expected to be picked up as the daily sporadic displays of civil disobedience continued in the afternoon.

Police were stopping and questioning some suspected members, including two middle-aged women who were hustled away by officers although they apparently were not involved in protests.

On the northwest corner of the square, a pair of women held up yellow banner with one of the sect's names, "Falun Dafa," in red Chinese characters.

The banner was up for about 20 seconds - an eternity compared to most protests - before police swooped in and grabbed the women by their arms and confiscated the banner.

One middle-aged woman walking by with her family spotted the banner and yelled "Arrest them."

Since the government banned the sect one year ago, police have been detaining members and state-run media have been denouncing the group in a fierce smear campaign.

Several newspapers on Saturday ran a commentary by the Xinhua News Agency that said Falun Gong is a "poisonous torrent" that is "anti-humanity" and "anarchistic."

Xinhua said that the group's exiled leader, Li Hongzhi, has encouraged followers to break the law and demonstrate, resulting in a recent increase in illegal gatherings at Tiananmen.

Falun Gong followers have traveled to Beijing this month from around China to carry on their the civil disobedience campaign. In recent weeks, police have detained about 200 followers daily in Tiananmen Square, according to a Communist Party official.

Founded eight years ago, Falun Gong attracted millions of followers, drawn by its blend of slow-motion exercises and ideas drawn from Buddhism, Taoism and its founder, an ex-government grain clerk. Followers say practice promotes health, moral living and, in experts, supernatural powers.

Police have become efficient in cracking down on protests in Tiananmen Square. Equipped with binoculars and walkie-talkies, they can quickly spot Falun Gong members who protest by sitting in the lotus position. Within minutes, the protesters are apprehended and hauled into police vans and driven away.

Blistering hot weather Saturday made the job difficult for the police because their views were obstructed by hundreds of visitors carrying umbrellas, which Chinese use to block the sun.

After plainclothes police grabbed one man sitting cross-legged, they took a camera away from a foreign tourist who was taking pictures in the area. They took the film out of the camera and exposed it to daylight, ruining the photos. The police walked away, ignoring the tourist's protests.

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