Protesters arrested in Tiananmen Square

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The Independent Online

Over 300 followers of the banned Falun Gong religious movement were beaten and arrested in Peking's Tiananmen Square yesterday in one of the largest acts of civil disobedience since the 1989 student demonstrations.

Over 300 followers of the banned Falun Gong religious movement were beaten and arrested in Peking's Tiananmen Square yesterday in one of the largest acts of civil disobedience since the 1989 student demonstrations.

By evading tight security to reach China's political heart, the protesters embarrassed Party leaders celebrating the 51st anniversary of Communist rule.

The annual National Day holiday had opened with a flag-raising ceremony at dawn. Uniformed and plainclothes police mingled with tens of thousands of tourists to prevent protests that Falun Gong websites had warned would take place. Two hours later, small groups of believers spread across the vast plaza began to unfurl banners, chant slogans and assume the Lotus Position.

The police response was predictably swift and brutal. In front of horrified tourists admiring floral displays carpeting the square, police punched, slapped and kicked the mainly female protesters as they herded them into waiting vans. Witnesses saw middle-aged women crying "Falun Gong is good. Falun Gong is good!" before police closed the windows and struggled to shut the doors of vans crammed with detainees.

Others scattered leaflets or raised yellow banners bearing Falun Gong principles such as "Truth, Compassion, Tolerance", but there was little of the latter on display. Once police realised how many protesters had evaded the dragnet and reached their goal, all access to the square was cut. Half an hour later, after the blood and dissent had been mopped up, the flower show could resume, though sporadic protests continued throughout the day.

Although the Falun Gong followers won only bloody noses and detention at a nearby police station for their peaceful protests, they succeeded in disrupting the PRC's birthday. It was a remarkable show of strength by a spiritual movement that refuses to buckle despite 14 months of arrests and crackdowns.

The October 1 holiday commemorates the day in 1949 when Chairman Mao ascended Tiananmen Gate to declare the birth of the PRC and deliver the famous line, "the Chinese people have stood up!" For their part, the followers of the Falun Gong have been standing up to Mao's Communist Party since Peking condemned the group as an "evil cult" last year.

Yesterday's protests come as the Pope canonised 120 Chinese martyrs in a ceremony that enraged Peking and dealt a blow to efforts to restore diplomatic ties broken in 1951. Some 50,000 people filled a wet St Peters Square in Rome to honour the martyrs, 87 Chinese and 33 missionaries, most of whom died during the Opium Wars or the 1898-1900 Boxer rebellion.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed extreme indignation, calling the saints "evil-doing sinners", killed not for their faith but because they were traitors. In the run-up to yesterday's ceremony, Peking has carried out an exceptionally vehement attack against the Vatican, in particular for the choice of October 1, Communist China's National Day.

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