Chinese dissidents harassed again

CHINA'S best-known dissident, Wei Jingsheng, left Peking yesterday afternoon as the authorities continued their crackdown on political activists. He telephoned an associate last night to say he was fine, but would not say where he was or when he would return.

Mr Wei was released on Saturday after nearly 30 hours in detention. The official Xinhua news agency said he had been summoned and held for violating the conditions of his parole. Since Wednesday, the public security authorities have rounded up about a dozen of China's main activists and some student leaders from the 1989 Tiananmen Square movement. Some were released after 24 hours, others are still held.

'Mr Wei looks very tired and I think his health is not very good,' his associate said yesterday. 'I do not think he is suffering from any mistreatment.' She added there were no restrictions on his movements, but she did not know when he would return to Peking. She said she did not know if police had told him to leave town. 'He said his health is not so good so he was leaving Peking.' His office and home were surrounded by police to stop foreign journalists talking to him.

China has told some dissidents to leave town before the arrival on Friday of the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, and the start of the annual meeting of the National People's Congress on Thursday. Mr Christopher said at the weekend: 'I'm glad to hear (Mr Wei) has now been released. But we remain concerned about the dissidents whose whereabouts at least to us are unknown. We're asking for explanations about them.'

Zhai Weimin, a student leader in 1989, was detained yesterday when a car-load of police swooped on him as he was walking in the university area of Peking. He was released from jail last September after serving more than three years.

Top of the agenda for Mr Christopher's visit is human rights. In June President Clinton decides if conditions merit renewal of China's Most Favoured Nation trading status. He has repeatedly stated he would only do so if there was a 'significant overall improvement' in China's human rights.

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