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China Criticizes South Korean Lawmakers Following Raid

China says four South Korean lawmakers acted illegally when they tried to hold a news conference at a Beijing hotel, and said the politicians should apologize. The incident has prompted a protest from Seoul.

The standoff began when Chinese police broke up the South Korean legislators' news conference on Wednesday. The four men refused to leave Beijing's Great Wall Sheraton hotel for 11 hours until they were allowed to read a statement calling on China to show more compassion toward North Korean refugees hiding in the country.

At a regular briefing Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said the four acted illegally by attempting to hold a news conference without proper authorization.

Reports quoted the South Koreans as demanding an apology from Chinese officials. Mr. Kong indicated Beijing would not apologize.

"I am not clear on what such reports say, but if they are true, then I think it is they who should apologize to China," he said.

The South Korean government has protested the incident to China.

Mr. Kong says only one of the four legislators had an official visa while the other three had entered China as tourists. He also complains that they intended to give information to help more North Koreans illegally enter China.

"These people are like traitors," said Mr. Kong. "They came here as tourists and used the opportunity to call foreign journalists and preach their things in violation of Chinese laws."

The South Korean politicians, angry over China's policy of repatriating North Korean migrants, said the raid demonstrated Beijing's attitude on the issue of the refugees.

At least two foreign journalists were manhandled and one of the lawmakers knocked to the floor in scuffles as Chinese agents broke up the news conference.

The legislators flew to the northeastern city of Qingdao Thursday to pray outside a prison holding a refugee advocate, Choi Young-hoon. Mr. Choi is serving a five-year prison sentence for aiding illegal North Korean migrants in China.

Beijing officials have long been sensitive about the refugee issue. It arrests not only North Korean refugees but also those who help them. South Korea's government, which is trying to improve relations with its Stalinist neighbor, also downplays the issue, to avoid angering Pyongyang.

The lawmakers in the Beijing incident are members of an opposition party that takes a more hostile stance toward North Korea.