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US visitor for China dissident

Peking - A United States embassy official yesterday met the detained human rights activist Harry Wu Hongda, and reported him in "reasonably good spirits", writes Teresa Poole. It was only the second meeting permitted by the Chinese authorities since Mr Wu was taken into custody on 19 June.

In Peking, the government's tough stance on activists persisted with the detention of the leading campaigner for war crimes compensation from the Japanese, and at least one Christian. Analysts say most of China's dissident community is likely to be held until after the United Nations World Conference on Women, which starts at the end of this month.

Daniel Piccuta, a first secretary at the US embassy in Peking, visited Mr Wu in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where he was formally arrested on 8 July on espionage charges. Mr Wu, 58, "appeared to be in good health and reasonably good spirit", a US embassy spokesman said. No other information was available last night.

The official Xinhua news agency said the meeting fulfilled the terms of the Sino-US consular agreement, which specifies a minimum of one visit per month. China has refused American requests for more frequent meetings with Mr Wu, a naturalised American who survived 19 years in China's prison camps, and who has campaigned against human rights abuses in China.

In Peking, Tong Zeng, who has collected 800,000 signatures demanding that Japan apologise for Second World War atrocities in China and pay compensation, was detained for nearly 24 hours before being released yesterday.

Although normally tolerant of compensation moves, the Chinese government is tightening up ahead of next week's 50th anniversary of Japan's surrender in 1945.

Peking is also clamping down on other dissidents. Police have detained a Christian activist, Gao Feng, who was planning an appeal for Liu Gang, a pro-democracy activist being held by police. Another Christian, Liu Fenggang, has not been seen since the beginning of the week. Police were guarding his home yesterday.