Peking fails to gag activists

FROM TERESA POOLE

in Peking

No sooner does the Chinese government round up one group of dissidents than another set of petitioners takes up the baton of protest.

The build-up to this weekend's sixth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown has prompted the most concerted nationwide campaign yet by pro- democracy activists for a re-evaluation of the official verdict on the tragedy, and for more political tolerance.

Yesterday's petition, the seventh in the past two weeks, was written by Lin Mu, 67, who was previously Communist Party secretary at the North- west University in Xian. It was signed by nine other intellectuals and demanded the release of the 25 activists detained during the past fortnight. Nearly 20 others have been taken in for questioning and then released.

"Human rights and pro-democracy activists have much closer ties than before,'' Mr Lin said, ''and the number of petitions has grown, because the contradictions in society have become multiplied and worsened."

The petition called for "tolerance and stability and for a reconciliation among all Chinese people, inside and outside, and to promote a modern economy, political democratisation and a society based on the rule of law".

Although many signatories to this year's petitions have swiftly been picked up by the police, the government appears incapable of stemming the flow.

The price the activists are paying is high, however. Six dissidents have been detained in Hainan province, an island off the southern coast, after planning another petition. Among them was Fang Zheng, an athlete who lost both his legs under a tank in the June 1989 military suppression. He was held for five hours.Three others taken in are still being detained.

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