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Beijing Unmoved by Donation Rush for Dissident Artist

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei (File)

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei (File)

The Chinese government brushed aside concerns Wednesday about the growing public support for the dissident artist Ai Weiwei, who is accused of tax evasion.

Ai claimed Wednesday supporters are travelling thousands of kilometers from across China to his Beijing studio to donate money towards a huge tax bill he has to pay by next week or face criminal proceedings.

Last week, the artist was ordered to pay the government $2.4 million in back taxes by next Tuesday or face a court hearing and possibly another lengthy spell in detention.

Since then, thousands of Chinese have been donating money, which his aides say now totals $1 million.

The state-run Global Times newspaper suggested in an editorial this week that Ai could be charged with "illegal fundraising" for accepting contributions for the tax bill.

On Wednesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei would not comment if the fund raising was illegal.

He says the government does not care what kind of action the public takes to help Ai, it will not change the fact that the artist has evaded tax and broken the law.

Ai says he has been surprised by the actions of his supporters, who are sending him money through the Internet and bank transfers. Others have resorted to throwing cash over the walls into his courtyard home -- some with messages of support attached.

Volunteer Zhang Haining told reporters that the accumulated contributions have the potential to make a bigger impact.

He says the tally of thousands of small contributions can become a powerful force.

Although Chinese officials have downplayed the impact of their public reaction, there is evidence that censors are cracking down on the movement online, blocking social media and other activities showing support for Ai.

The artist says his mother plans to re-mortgage her home to help him pay the bill and he expects to clear the debt - which he still denies he owes - by next Tuesday's deadline.

Ai, who has made millions by selling his artwork around the world, has told reporters it is not money that he wants. He has also vowed to repay his the donors, even those who could only afford to donate one yuan.

He says what he needs is the ethical support of everybody in China.