February 4, 2000

Falun Gong Members Arrested

By The Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) -- As fireworks thundered from Beijing's outskirts, police on Tiananmen Square beat, kicked and detained at least 50 Falun Gong members who welcomed the Year of the Dragon with one of their biggest and most dramatic protests of recent months.

Practitioners, ranging in age and some with children, began converging on the vast square minutes late Friday before the new year began. Many pulled red banners from beneath their clothing and waved them aloft. At least two dozen people emerged from a pedestrian tunnel that opens onto the square and sat down cross-legged in unison, a pose typical of the sect that the government banned in July. Police pounced on the protesters immediately, running toward them from all corners of the square. They kicked, punched and dragged protesters to their feet, herded them into vans and drove them away.

Other protesters who came to the square alone or in smaller groups of two or three were likewise quickly and violently tackled. At least two men were felled by police who took running kicks and knocked their legs out from under them. Some officers shouted obscenities at practitioners as they beat them into submission.

The buildings around the square were decorated for the holiday, which is traditionally celebrated with family reunions and feasts of steamed dumplings. Trees were strung with multicolored lights, and Tiananmen gate, which overlooks the square, was decorated with big red lanterns.

Wang Xiaoping, a Falun Gong member from Beijing in her 20s, said she felt it was more important to express her dissatisfaction with the government ban on the group than spend the most important holiday of the year with her family. "They won't let us practice, they are trying to crush us," she said. "We're not against the government, we just want the government to have peaceful talks with our master, Li Hongzhi." She then walked straight for the police, pulling a red banner from her anorak, and was flung to the ground within seconds. As she tried to get up, she was knocked back to the ground and kicked several times. Wang and her two companions, a man in his 50s and a woman in her 40s, were also hit and shouted at by at least six policemen before being taken away.

A man, strolling with a woman and a young girl, also was set upon. Police punched him in the face, while the girl screamed, "Don't hit, don't hit!" Three tourists were detained, apparently because one took pictures. The film was removed from the camera.

After about 25 minutes, columns of police ran into the square and closed it, ushering bystanders away. Officers were positioned every twenty yards to keep anyone from entering, and police vans patrolled the edges.

Beijing banned Falun Gong in July as a threat to Communist Party control. The blend of meditation, slow-motion exercises and ideas drawn from Buddhism, Taoism and the group's founder, Li, had attracted millions of followers around the country. China has issued a warrant for Li's arrest, and he now lives in New York.

The streets of Beijing had been eerily quiet earlier Friday as people headed home to welcome the Year of the Dragon, which is considered one of the luckiest times in the 12-year zodiac. Many people left work early to gather with family at home to feast and watch a gala of song, dance and comedy on New Year's television specials. Prisons sent well-behaved inmates home to join with loved ones. Villages prepared fireworks shows, staged to scare off evil spirits.

This year is particularly special for Chinese, many of whom identify themselves with the dragon, calling themselves the "dragon's descendants." In ancient times, emperors regarded themselves as reincarnations of dragons, and children born during the year are considered blessed.

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