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Chinese Dissidents Urge Communist Party for Reform - 2002-11-07

Human rights groups and political dissidents are urging China's Communist Party to release political prisoners, expand democracy, and stop executing people. Calls for reform come just before the opening of a crucial party conference and are likely to be ignored.

Dozens of Chinese dissidents wrote an open letter urging the party leadership to allow political exiles to return, release political prisoners, and permit elections.

They also urged China to stop treating people involved in the 1989 pro-democracy movement as criminals and compensate those killed or injured in the crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests.

Many of the those who signed the letter are activists who argue a lack of political freedom is an injustice that hurts China's economic growth. The signatures came from 192 dissidents.

The New York-based group Human Rights in China made the letter available to reporters. The group's executive director, Xiao Qiang, admits that China is not likely to make these changes anytime soon.

"The political liberalization of the Chinese system is not something that you can postpone forever," he said. "And those issues will continue to be there and political opposition forces are the voices to remind the people in power again and again you can not overlook those issues in China."

China's ruling Communists are preparing for a key Party Congress to set policy for the next five years. The Congress, which begins Friday, is expected to hand power to a new generation of leaders and consider major changes, such as allowing business people to join the party.

Before the meeting, Chinese officials have tightened controls on the media, and cracked down on dissent, corruption and crime. Amnesty International says the result has been a surge in executions, including 46 people put to death in just two days last week.

Amnesty says China executes thousands of people each year, more than the rest of the world combined. The group says the executions have not stopped a rising crime rate and are imposed by a badly flawed judicial system.

Amnesty urges China to impose a moratorium on executions and reconsider laws that set the death penalty for a long list of crimes.