WASHINGTON (AP) - As a group of Falun Gong demonstrators protested nearby, a Chinese Embassy diplomat said Tuesday that China decided to ban the spiritual movement after its leaders caused the deaths of 1,400 followers by brainwashing them into refusing medical treatment.
Embassy spokesman Yu Shuning summoned reporters to talk about the movement in an attempt to counter widespread publicity in the U.S. media to China's attempts to abolish the group.
"No responsible government would ever allow the activities of a cult like the Falun Gong to go unchecked," Yu said.
Yu also sought to debunk the notion that Falun Gong is nonviolent, alleging that 10,000 members mobilized last April in a bid to seize a Communist Party compound in China.
He likened the movement to groups like the Branch Davidians in the United States and Japan's Aum Shinri Kyo. The Davidians' 51-day standoff with the FBI in 1993 ended with the deaths of about 80 sect members; Aum killed 12 people and sickened thousands with a 1995 poison gas attack on the Tokyo subway.
Yu also had harsh words for Li Hongzhi, the Falun Gong leader who lives in exile in New York. He charged that Li has "brainwashed his people so they can't tell right from wrong." He also has used doomsday prophecies "to frighten his disciples into obedience," Yu said.
By "swindling" practitioners, Li has been able to build up an "extravagant lifestyle" that includes "many luxury residences," Yu added.
He said China is continuing to seek Li's arrest but has received little cooperation either from the United States or Interpol, the international police force based in France. There is virtually no prospect that the United States will deport Li to China because the two countries do not have an extradition treaty.
Falun Gong is an offshoot of traditional schools of slow-motion exercise that channel unseen forces of nature to the body. Blending ideas from Buddhism and Taoism, it was popular throughout China and practiced openly in public parks before the ban.
Outside the Chinese Embassy, located in a residential section north of the downtown area, more than a dozen Falun Gong demonstrators protested Chinese harassment of the group. They passed out leaflets accusing Chinese authorities of subjecting its members to arrest and torture.
They also denied that adherents are forbidden to receive medical treatment.
One large banner proclaimed: "Millions of people are tortured because they want to be good." Another stated: "When will the world act?"
At his news conference, Yu also assailed a proposal before Congress that would upgrade the relationship between military officials in the United States and Taiwan.
"If passed, it will bring about great danger," Yu said. "The basis for Chinese-U.S. relations will greatly be harmed."
House leaders have deferred a floor vote on the bill in order not to interfere with delicate U.S.-Chinese negotiations on terms for allowing China to join the World Trade Organization.
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