Falun Gong Members Demonstrate

Members of the Falun Gong meditation sect demonstrated in Hong Kong on Tuesday, marking Chinese President Jiang Zemin's arrival for a global economic conference by accusing his government of killing more than 202 followers on the mainland.

Spokeswoman Sharon Xu also attacked the ``pure discrimination against Falun Gong practitioners,'' saying more than 100 foreign followers of the sect, including some Americans, have been barred from entering Hong Kong in the past few days.

Jiang arrived Tuesday morning and was scheduled to address the opening dinner of the Fortune Global Forum, a three-day conference of corporate executives whose speakers also will include former President Clinton and Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

More than 150 Falun Gong adherents practiced their slow motion exercises to mellow Chinese music in local parks Tuesday. Sect spokeswoman Sophie Xiao said at least 30 people were still detained at the airport — apparently waiting to be deported.

In one park, Falun Gong followers displayed pictures of people allegedly tortured by mainland Chinese police and unfurled a banner that said, ``Jiang Zemin cannot shirk the responsibility for the persecution of Falun Gong.''

Falun Gong says 202 followers have been tortured to death by the Chinese authorities — a claim that was disputed by China on Tuesday.

A Chinese State Council spokesman in Beijing, who identified himself only by the surname Chen, said that ``what they are saying is not true'' but was unable to say whether any Falun Gong adherents have died from abuse in custody.

China has consistently denied that Falun Gong followers have been mistreated or died as a result of police abuse.

The spiritual sect is outlawed as an ``evil cult'' in mainland China but remains legal in Hong Kong, a Chinese territory where citizens enjoy Western-style freedoms of speech and religion — holdovers from British colonial days.

Hong Kong has denied stopping anyone from entering because of Falun Gong membership, but immigration officials have declined to say how many people were kept out or why. Department spokesman Alvin Tam said early Tuesday he could not discuss individual cases.

The U.S. Consulate questioned why Americans had been turned away.

``We recognize the right of the Hong Kong government to make decisions on entry and exit based on its own policies and procedures,'' consular spokeswoman Barbara Zigli said.

``We are concerned, however, that these procedures were apparently used arbitrarily to deny entry to some American citizens, which could have the effect of limiting freedom of information and belief and restricting the free flow of ideas,'' she said.

Zigli would not say how many U.S. citizens were turned away, but Falun Gong said seven people flying from the United States, including at least four U.S. citizens, had been banned, along with people from Taiwan, Australia, Britain and other countries.

Authorities in Hong Kong have come under pressure from pro-Beijing forces to clamp down on Falun Gong, but pro-democracy politicians and human rights activists say that would be a blow to the territory's freedom of speech.

On Tuesday, Chinese officials and a Hong Kong deputy to the National People's Congress accused Falun Gong of tarnishing Hong Kong's image by targeting the Chinese leadership.

The assistant director of the Chinese liaison office, Wang Rudeng, suggested Falun Gong should be stripped of its registration as a legal organization in Hong Kong because it has ``violated its original purpose of registering.''

Hong Kong is permitting some Falun Gong activities, but keeping practitioners far away from the dignitaries at the conference.

About 3,000 police have been deployed, compared with just 2,000 when Britain returned Hong Kong to China in a massive handover ceremony on July 1, 1997.

Seven pro-democracy demonstrators who chained themselves to a flag pole Monday afternoon were removed by police and charged with obstruction, the government said Tuesday.

Despite a large number of groups protesting here, protests were expected to be smaller less disruptive than those at recent global economic conferences in Seattle and Quebec.