Australians protest over police tactics

Peking- Heavy-handed security is continuing to cause controversy at the women's forum in Huairou, writes Teresa Poole.

The Australian embassy yesterday lodged a formal protest after police broke up a meeting of its Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), who had gathered in a rented conference room of the five-star Kunlun Hotel.

One delegate said the police arrived just as the meeting - on such routine topics as transportation and meeting arrangements - was about to begin, and seized microphones and video recorders. "They told us such a meeting was political, and that political meetings were banned at the conference," she said. The meeting was later allowed to proceed after delegates put their chairs in circles, forming discussion groups.

Meanwhile, the Forum 95 independent daily newspaper guide to the meetings failed to appear after editors had been told by the Chinese that the printing machines were "broken". On Thursday it had reported some much-voiced criticisms about arrangements for the forum.

Complaints from delegates continued yesterday when a supporting wall collapsed under heavy rains and the ground around the marquees turned into a sea of mud.

Delegates remain undaunted, however. Marking the 30th anniversary of China's founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region, nine Tibetan exiled women, their mouths symbolically gagged, staged a 20-minute protest at the forum site. There was heavy surveillance, but no direct intervention by police.