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Falun Gong Was Only Group to Stage Protests at APEC Summit


The summit of Pacific rim leaders, which ended in Los Cabos, Mexico Sunday, was carried out under strict security that limited access to dissenters. The only group that managed to stage protests at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, known as APEC, was the Chinese Falun Gong movement.

Most of the usual demonstrators found outside such summit meetings were not present in Los Cabos because of the remote nature of the site. The hotels where the meetings took place are strung along the coast and backed by desert mountains where few people live. In addition, most areas near the hotels were blocked to anyone without an official APEC credential.

About 150 practitioners of Falun Gong came anyway, and set up demonstrations along the coastal highway in hopes of influencing visiting Chinese officials, including Chinese President Jiang Zemin. But when he arrived Saturday, Mexican police drove buses in front of the protesters. Falun Gong supporter Josh Maiman who came to Los Cabos from Los Angeles, described what happened. "A group of 150 people were demonstrating, and three buses blocked our view as the Chinese motorcade came. We were completely blocked from the Chinese view," he said.

When asked whether he knew the Mexicans were going to do that, he responded, "No. We had no idea." Mr. Maiman also said the protesters had permission to be there.

Some Falun Gong participants complain that Mexican immigration officials photocopied their travel documents when they arrived at the airport, but most say they were treated fairly here in Mexico. Kerry Huang, a Falun Gong practitioner from San Francisco, said even though they had little access to the summit participants, they did get a chance to explain their cause to Mexicans in the area. "A lot of people were very supportive after they know about the brutal persecution. They think that is not right. This is not right at all. People are supposed to have the basic human right to freedom of belief," she said.

China regards the Falun Gong as an "evil cult" that threatens national stability. The Chinese government estimates that there are around two million Falun Gong practitioners, but independent estimates run as high as 100 million. The Chinese government said charges that Falun Gong members have been persecuted and tortured in China are fabrications.

Mexican officials say the security measures at the APEC event were necessary given the threat of terrorism and the nature of this high-level gathering. In the weeks leading to the summit, bombs killed nearly 200 people in Indonesia and the Philippines, Chechen rebels took hostages in a Moscow theater, and U.S. officials warned that al-Qaida is preparing new attacks worldwide. Some 3,000 soldiers and police were stationed in the area around the summit site. Naval ships could also be seen off the coast.

President Vicente Fox said the isolation of the Los Cabos summit site made for a relaxed atmosphere that contributed to better interaction.

In remarks to reporters after the summit, Mr. Fox compared this year's event to the APEC summit in Shanghai, China, last year, where he said millions of people were kept out of the city to create a more calm environment. The Mexican president said his nation had demonstrated how to hold a summit under, in his words, "democratic conditions."

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