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China detains 40 Western Falun Gong activists

Two Westerners were arrested during another protest in the square earlier this week  

BEIJING, China -- Chinese authorities have detained about 40 Western members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement after a brief protest in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

Witnesses said the demonstrators threw the square into chaos for about 15 minutes as they unfurled a yellow banner and shouted slogans "Falun Gong is good!"

The demonstrators, whose nationality has not been confirmed, were demonstrating against the Chinese government's crackdown on their movement.

Bejing has banned the group labeling it an "evil cult", although it remains legal in the autonomous regions of Hong Kong and Macau.

"The trouble caused by these Falun Gong members was intended to prevent the Chinese people from celebrating" the lunar New Year, The Associated Press quoted a statement from Beijing police as saying.

The agency says it is highly unusual for Chinese police to issue a statement following a protest and may be a sign they are trying to limit damage before next week's visit to Beijing by U.S. President George W. Bush.

Witnesses to Thursday's brief protest reported seeing demonstrators dash across the vast plaza of Tiananmen Square screaming slogans as hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes police officers chased after them.

Police also tackled some protesters to the ground, kicking and punching some, before wrestling them into police vans.

Chinese tourists sightseeing in Beijing for the Lunar New Year holidays crowded round to watch the incident -- the second demonstration this week by Western Falun Gong members in Tiananmen Square.

On Tuesday, China expelled Canadian Jason Loftus and American Levi Browde after they launched a Lunar New Year protest in the square.

During last year's New Year holiday five people identified by Chinese authorities as Falun Gong followers set themselves on fire in Tiananmen Square.

Two of the protesters died from their injuries.

However, representatives from the Falun Gong have denied that its followers were involved in the apparent suicide attempt saying the group supports only non-violent protest.


• Falun Gong

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