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China: Human Rights Protests In Britain Anger Beijing

  • Ben Partridge



A visit to the United Kingdom by Chinese President Jiang Zemin ended on a controversial note today, after Chinese officials criticized the British government for not doing more to stop demonstrations by human rights protesters. RFE/RL correspondent Ben Partridge reports from London that human rights activists demonstrating about rights violations in China now also have harsh words for police in Britain.

London, 22 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The visit by Chinese President Jiang Zemin was the first ever state visit to Britain by a Chinese president. But the four-day tour was disrupted by noisy protests. Demonstrators attempted to disrupt the visit by calling for a free Tibet and protested human rights violations in China.

The protesters dogged Jiang wherever he went, waving Tibetan flags, shouting amplified slogans, and playing Tibetan music. Jiang, who has a well-known dislike of demonstrations, was clearly irritated by his reception. Yesterday, he had to enter the prime minister's official residence by a side door to avoid hundreds of protesters. Jiang said in London last night that British authorities should have done more to avoid the protests.

But human rights campaigners have criticized London police, saying the treatment of peaceful demonstrators was "heavy-handed." The police arrested a number of protesters, tore banners and flags from their hands, and forcibly kept them at a distance from Jiang. Critics accuse the police of exceeding their powers by violating people's right to assemble peacefully, and also the right of free speech.

A spokesman for the opposition Conservative Party, John Maples, says China's statement last night suggests that Beijing sought to pressure the British government on the eve of the visit. He says it suggests that the police were given special instructions to deal harshly with protesters.

Human rights groups said the British government reneged on its promise to allow peaceful demonstrations. They say the government snubbed three leading activists who tried to present a letter to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, urging a dialogue with Jiang on human rights and Tibet.

Activists complain that British police were rough with a leading Chinese dissident, Wei Jingsheng, and that they seized hold of the wife of a Chinese political prisoner who sought to display her husband's photograph.

Other state visits have not been so rigorously policed. During a visit to London last year by the Japanese Emperor Akihito, hundreds of former British prisoners of war turned their backs as he rode down a street in an open-topped carriage with Queen Elizabeth.

Jiang and Prime Minister Tony Blair had 45 minutes of talks yesterday. Blair raised the issue of Tibet, reiterating Britain's view that Tibet should be allowed to control its own affairs and be given the status of an autonomous region of China. Blair also called for China to enter a dialogue with the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader.

But the talks mostly focused on trade. Britain, the largest EU trader with China, invests $1.5 billion there a year. During the visit the two sides signed trade deals worth another $3.5 billion.

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