Beijing -- China has arrested two alleged members of the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual group for planning self-immolations on Tiananmen Square last Chinese New Year's eve, state television reported Wednesday.
The two men from the central city of Kaifeng -- Liu Yun and Xue Hongjun -- were arrested Saturday and accused of plotting the fiery January 23 group suicide attempt, which left one woman dead and four people badly injured, it said.
Liu, 57, had planned to commit self-immolation but was stopped by police with another woman on the square. Xue did not go to Tiananmen, but had abetted the self-immolators before they left Kaifeng, state television said. The report identified Wang Jindong, who was still in hospital recovering from serious burns from the suicide attempt, as a ''criminal suspect'' for organizing the fiery protest.
The television report said they were inspired by exiled Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi. China banned Falun Gong as an ''evil cult'' in 1999 and has detained thousands of followers in a ruthless crackdown on the spiritual movement. The arrests were announced a day after China's cabinet defended the crackdown in the face of international condemnation of violations of religious freedom and civil liberties.
``The Falun Gong cult is the same as a spiritual drug,'' Liu Jing, head of a new cabinet anti-cult office, told a news conference. ``It does as much harm to its practitioners, especially the devout ones, as drugs.''
Liu said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson did not understand the dangers of Falun Gong and the United States was using the issue to interfere in China's internal affairs.
Robinson had urged China to ban ``re-education through Labour'' camps which Beijing has used to incarcerate thousands of Falun Gong followers, as well as dissidents and prostitutes.
The United States, which has proposed a resolution censuring Beijing at a U.N. rights meeting in Geneva next month, condemned alleged abuses of Falun Gong followers in a human rights report which said the rights situation in China had worsened in 2000.
Falun Gong, which is based on elements of Taoism, Buddhism and traditional Chinese meditation and exercises, has denied that the five self-immolators belonged to the movement.