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Sect hunger strikers arrested in Hong Kong

By Staff and wires

HONG KONG, China -- Hong Kong police have arrested 10 Falun Gong members Saturday for "obstruction in public places" after they began a hunger strike in support of other followers imprisoned in China.

Nine women and one man, dressed in the movement's trademark yellow T-shirts, began the protest at the front entrance of the Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong's around 9 a.m. (0100 GMT), witnesses said.

The hunger strikers were all Hong Kong residents, according to spokeswoman for Falun Gong, which is banned in China.

"We were forced individually into police vehicles at about 1 p.m. (0400 GMT)," Wang Yaoqing, one of the protesters, said shortly after her arrest on Saturday.

"The police told us we were arrested because of traffic obstruction complaints made by the Chinese Liaison Office," she told Reuters by mobile phone while being detained at Hong Kong's western district police station late on Saturday afternoon.

"They have warned us verbally, but it doesn't look like they have enough reasons to charge us formally, and we might be going home tonight," she added.

The Hong Kong police were not immediately available to comment on whether or when the 10 hunger strikers would be released.

The Hong Kong government said in a statement regarding the arrests late on Saturday that the police "would endeavour to ensure public order, safety and reduce any inconvenience to the public to the minimum."

Police spokesman Ricky Chong told Reuters earlier that the hunger strikers were arrested because they had ignored repeated police requests to relocate their sit-in protest to a public area near the Chinese Liaison Office, away from the front entrance.

Falun Gong is banned by Beijing but remains legal in Hong Kong, a former British colony promised a high degree of autonomy when it reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.

The movement says more than 50,000 practitioners have been thrown into prisons, labour camps and mental hospitals around China.

Human rights groups estimate some 200 Falun Gong followers have died from torture while in detention in China.

Chinese authorities have acknowledged several deaths in custody, but attributed most to suicide or illness.

Beijing has said 150 prominent members have been jailed, mostly for "using a cult for obstructing justice," but has been silent on the numbers sent for "reform through labour" punishment which does not require a judicial trial.

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