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Protesters arrested at China Congress

November 9, 2002

At least six people have been arrested in Beijing as they staged individual protests outside the landmark congress of China's ruling Communist Party.

Witnesses said two of those arrested were women.

The protests took place as party delegates were holding their first full day of discussions behind closed doors, to decide on the party's leadership and direction for the next five years.

In the public sessions of the congress, praise was heaped on President Jiang Zemin for his opening speech in which he said that the party should embrace businessmen.

The governor of the prosperous southern province of Guangdong, Lu Ruihua, said the speech answered the question what the party was and where it was going.

Mr Jiang is expected to stand down at the end of the eight-day congress, although he will remain president until next year.

Even after he has stood down, however, observers expect him to maintain considerable influence behind the scenes.

The Chinese authorities have been keen to avoid displays of dissent during the congress, detaining activists protesting in the Great Hall of the People.

Police surrounded one woman dressed in a red winter coat as she distributed leaflets, putting her into a police van, witnesses said.

Another woman was detained in nearby Tiananmen Square after scattering a bag full of papers. Four others who tried to hand police officers a petition were also seen being arrested.

'Christian persecuted'
In the run up the party conference, the Chinese authority conducted a crackdown on leading activists.

Hua Huiqi, a religious activist and his wife, Ju Mei, were detained on Thursday for the duration of the seven-day congress, Mr Hua's 72-year-old mother Shuang Shuying said.

"The police took the two away on 7 November, at two in the afternoon," Ms Shuang told Reuters.

"They took them away because of the 16th party congress. They don't want stability to be disturbed," she said, adding that police had said the couple would be released when the meeting ended.

However, police denied all knowledge of the incident.

Mr Hua is a prominent member of China's underground Christian church, according to New York-based group Human Rights in China.

"Once again under the pretext of conducting the 16th party congress in a peaceful and stable atmosphere, the Chinese Government is abusing human rights," said the organisation's president, Liu Qing.

Panchen propaganda
In what appears to be a propaganda move, the boy selected by Chinese officials as the 11th Panchen Lama, the second highest figure in the Tibetan Buddhist religion, has made an appearance at the congress.

A photograph of the 13-year-old boy, born Gyancain Norbu, on the conference stage was printed in the official China Daily, bearing the caption "Dear guest".

The Communist Party meeting is now in its second day, and so far virtually all talk has been devoted to praising Mr Jiang, who is expected to step down as leader.

Mr Jiang's likely replacement, the current Vice President Hu Jintao, used his first speech at the congress to firmly commit himself to the policies of the present incumbent.