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Sweet and sour welcome for delegates



The United Nations flag was raised, the Peking Express arrived to a fanfare welcome at the city's main railway station, and the baggage-handling system at the airport was tested to endurance yesterday as women from all corners of the world arrived in China for the largest international women's meeting yet, which begins tomorrow.

The most striking arrival was that of the 250 educators, activists and artists, the majority from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union who turned up six hours behind schedule. The delay was too much for the security officials waiting at the station, who began bundling the women into buses before some of them had even had time to collect their luggage. "I have to get my bag," protested a middle-aged woman. "Let's go, Let's go," shouted a policeman in Chinese, as he directed her towards the buses.

The Peking Express, from Warsaw, one of several women's trains arriving in the Chinese capital in the next few days, was sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme. Among its passengers was Vanessa Vadim, the daughter of Jane Fonda and Roger Vadim (famous for his film And God Created Woman). Jane Fonda will also be heading for Peking in time for the women's forum. Speaking of the seminars which took place on the train on such subjects as democratisation and presentation skills, Ms Vadim said: "It was a small amount of space when you have 20 to 30 people in the same room ... but actually it went incredibly smoothly."

Earlier, at the airport, the processing of planeloads of women arrived also went smoothly. "It feels very good to be here," said Loretta Ross, from the Centre for Democratic Renewal, based in Atlanta, Georgia. "We were told the government of China was going to do everything to keep us radical women out. Turns out the power of women is stronger even than the government of China."

The women were whisked by coach to the town of Huairou, the site of the Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) Forum. The forum runs from tomorrow until 8 September, overlapping with the 4 September to 15 September governmental UN World Conference on Women in the capital.

Yesterday morning the UN flag was hoisted over the official conference site, based around the Asian Games Village on the north side of the capital. The secretary-general of the governmental conference, Gertrude Mongella, said: "This will be the biggest and I dare say most important UN conference in history, because it is not about one group or the other. This conference affects every human being on Earth."

Among the delegates were several who would not normally be welcomed into China, including Pierre Sane, head of Amnesty International. It is the first official visit by the group to China. "We are seeking guarantees that human rights are a woman's right," it said in a statement.

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