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More China Sect Members Arrested

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Police arrested hundreds of protesters from the Falun Gong spiritual group for a third straight day today, ordering some onto buses and dragging others off the street by force.

A cordon of about 200 police stood along with an estimated 1,000 demonstrators about half a mile from the compound where President Jiang Zemin and other top Communist Party leaders live and work. After scores of reinforcements arrived, police gradually began herding hundreds of protesters onto the buses.

The arrests came one day after widespread protests took place in nearly 30 Chinese cities in response to the reported arrest of several of the group’s senior members.

The ongoing protests have reminded China’s government of an obvious but unwelcome fact: In a year packed with sensitive political anniversaries, neither dissidents nor laid-off workers have been able to field even a fraction of the number of disciplined protesters mustered by Falun Gong, a group that denies having any political ambitions or organizational structure.

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Falun Gong has also unnerved China’s bureaucracy, which has tried to manage members as either a religion, a form of exercise group or an organized social group. Falun disciples claim to be “above” any of these categorizations.

This week marks the second time in three months that practitioners of Falun Gong’s yoga-like exercises, known as qigong, have startled the Chinese government by converging en masse on their seat of power, the Zhongnanhai leadership compound.

Falun members say about 70 of their members and senior disciples were arrested around the country in overnight raids starting early Tuesday morning.

On April 25, 10,000 mostly elderly protesters sat in quiet meditation, then dispersed voluntarily. But this week, thousands of younger protesters stood with arms locked, lining tree-shaded streets about half a mile northwest of Zhongnanhai.

“Protect the constitution! You must not arrest people!” the protesters shouted.

Government officials have so far declined to comment on the incident.

“The police can sound their sirens all they like, I’m not afraid,” said a Beijing physics teacher surnamed Huang. Huang said that after practicing Falun Gong an hour a day for four years, he needed only four hours of sleep a night and had cured himself of various ailments.

Falun practitioners say their blend of Buddhist doctrine, breathing and visualization exercises can also bring enlightenment and special powers. They claim more than 100 million adherents worldwide, although critics say that number is exaggerated. The movement’s founder, Li Hongzhi, has remained safely in the United States since leaving China early last year.

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On the Internet, the Falun Gong web site, https://www.falundafa.org, maintained by overseas practitioners, posted updates around the clock about arrests in progress throughout China. The site claimed arrests and protests in dozens of other cities, including 20,000 demonstrators in the southern city of Guangzhou. Local residents confirmed the protests but not the numbers.

The site claimed that police beat practitioners and ransacked their homes.

Times wire services contributed to this story.


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