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China Deports Foreign Falun Gong Members as Bush Visit Nears - 2002-02-16

The Chinese government says scores of foreign members of the banned spiritual movement Falun Gong have been deported after protesting in Tiananmen Square Thursday. The protests come at an awkward time for China which is gearing up for President Bush's visit next week.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said Saturday that 53 foreigners were expelled after trying to stage a pro-Falun Gong protest in the heart of Beijing just as thousands of Chinese tourists were on the square celebrating Chinese New Year.

Six foreigners who refused to say where they come from and who don't have any passports are still being held. In total, 59 foreigners were detained in Thursday's protest.

This is the first time Chinese officials have given a tally of all the foreigners held, and it is more than previous estimates by Chinese police and western diplomats. The Chinese government spokeswoman says the protesters came from 12 countries. Earlier, diplomats said there were 33 Americans, four Britons and five Germans among the group.

The protests come just as President Bush prepares to visit China next week for the second time. Human rights and religious freedom will be part of the U.S. agenda, though China has been at great pains to highlight warm relations with the United States and the common fight against terror.

Members of the Falun Gong have said they plan to continue protesting until the government stops its crackdown on the religious movement. Foreign diplomats and Chinese sources say hundreds have died during massive roundups. The government's efforts appear to have silenced the regular protests by Chinese practitioners.