Police arrest Falun Gong members in Tiananmen protest

POLICE DETAINED more than a dozen Falun Gong practitioners in Tiananmen Square yesterday, even as China's top religious affairs official declared victory in Peking's battle with the group.

The sect followers, pushing forward with a 10-day civil disobedience campaign, made no attempt to resist arrest as scores of police scoured the square's vast expanse. As hundreds did last week, they acknowledged their allegiance to Falun Gong when questioned. They also insisted they would not give up their silent protests.

Peking thought it had seen the last of the once multi-million member group when it outlawed the spiritual organisation in July. But its massive propaganda blitz only helped to strengthen the faith of many.

Nevertheless, Ye Xiaowen, the head of the State Administration of Religious Affairs, proclared yesterday that the organisation had been crushed."The cult is at the final stage, and the next step will be its disappearance," he said.

However, he refused to provide figures for the number of practitioners detained in Peking in recent days, or to give trial dates for the group leaders charged with threatening the ruling Communist Party.

Mr Ye said that the rapidchanges brought about by the government's economic reforms had provided fertile ground for groups such as Falun Gong. In hindsight, they should have acted earlier to crush it, he said.

The government says most people were attracted to Falun Gong because they thought its slow-motion meditation exercises would keep them fit. But Mr Ye said it also drew "lost" people. "There are people who haven't adapted to this fast developing society, who feel unbalanced, spiritually empty," he said. "So some cults have emerged to attract them."

Peking's first major run-in with Falun Gong occurred in April when 10,000 practitioners surrounded the leadership compound in the capital to protest against persecution.President Jiang Zemin outlawed the group but protests continued. Last week, Peking declared the group an illegal cult and passed legislation that promises lengthy jail terms for sects.

But even that could not stop yesterday's huge protests in Tiananmen Square, where security was especially tight for the welcoming ceremony for the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroder.

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