Members of the outlawed Falun Gong sect yesterday showed they had survived a year-long crackdown when more than 100 protested in Tiananmen Square, raising flags before being hustled away.
Shortly after 10am, six separate groups of followers simultaneously lifted up red-and-yellow flags proclaiming "Falun Gong" in different parts of the square. Squads of plain-clothes and uniformed police sprinted into action punching, kicking and shoving protesters into vans.
At least 100 supporters were detained in violent scuffles with police as the group - fearing a crackdown by police ahead of the first anniversary of the protest that brought them to worldwide attention - flooded the square.
Nearly 90 minutes later, as police mistakenly chased after bemused tourist groups following tour leaders, the protests had still not stopped.
At least four more flags were raised by groups of between five and 10 people, although witnesses reported seeing at least five loads of protesters, mainly middle-aged women, being driven off.
The square was filled with several thousand people, many of them tourists. Police roamed the crowds, confiscating films from those armed with cameras and asking everybody whether they were Falun Gong members.
The protest comes as an embarrassment to the Government as it approaches the anniversary of the April 25 protest outside the Zhongnanhai government compound and a vote at the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva.
After the Zhongnanhai protests, involving over 10,000 members, the Communist Party outlawed Falun Gong. Six months later, it boasted it had smashed the "evil cult".
Thousands have been detained in "re-education through labour" camps or locked up in psychiatric hospitals.
According to the Information Centre on Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China, 11 members have died in detention and more than 300 jailed.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi blamed the sect for causing the deaths of 1,000 people and said the ban was intended to protect human rights.
In New York, Falun Gong spokeswoman Gail Rachlin said members wanted to act before a new clampdown expected ahead of the April 25 anniversary.
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