China expels Falun Gong protesters
BEIJING, China -- Western followers of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement have left China after the government ordered their expulsion for staging a protest in Tiananmen Square.
Seven Swedish members of a group of 35 protesters were put on a flight for Stockholm, Sweden's Ambassador Kjell Anneling told Reuters news agency.
"We have confirmed, we have seen, that they have left, but we have not been able to talk to them in more detail," Anneling said. "We are pleased that they were released."
The U.S. embassy confirmed that six detained Americans were expelled, while a Swiss embassy spokesman said three Swiss citizens and one Spanish national with Swiss residence were also kicked out.
Australians, Canadians, French and Germans -- all part of the multinational protest group -- were either expelled or on the way out, diplomatic sources also told Reuters.
Police arrested the group after they unfurled a yellow banner in the public square, bearing the Falun Gong motto, "Truthfulness, Compassion, Forbearance."
They were also demonstrating against "violence and terror" inflicted on believers in China, the protesters said in a statement issued by the New York-based Falun Dafa Information Center.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry earlier summoned consular officials from Sweden, Germany, France, Canada, Finland, Switzerland and other countries.
"They said that these people, through the illegal demonstration, had broken Chinese laws and that this is not acceptable and that they will be sent home as soon as possible," Anneling said.
Anneling said Sweden and other countries had raised objections to China's handling of the Falun Gong.
"We made it quite clear -- I think all countries made it quite clear -- that we have a different opinion on how to treat people who belong or adhere to the Falun Gong."
"We don't defend Falun Gong, but we criticize the way they treat the people who associate themselves with Falun Gong," he said.
Falun Gong teaches a mix of Taoist and Buddhist beliefs with traditional Chinese exercises.
But China brands the group an "evil cult" and accuses it of plotting to overthrow the Communist Party, and causing more than 1,700 deaths by suicide or by its advice to followers to refuse medical treatment.
The Falun Dafa information center has also criticized the government for sending more than 50,000 adherents to prisons, labor camps and mental hospitals since the movement was banned in 1999.
The group also lamented that about 300 of their members have died in government custody.
Chinese authorities have acknowledged several deaths of Falun Gong members in custody, but say most resulted from suicide or illness.
In a related development, the father of a U.S. permanent resident serving a three-year sentence in a labor camp for giving foreign media information on the Falun Gong crackdown said China might grant his daughter an early release for denouncing the group.
In an interview broadcast on state television's English channel on Tuesday, Teng Chunyan called her refusal to engage the outside world while practicing Falun Gong "anti-human."
The official Xinhua news agency also quoted her saying she had not been beaten while in the labor camp.
"Now that her thoughts have changed I expect she could get out very fast, maybe before or after the New Year," her father Teng Yuben told Reuters.
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