Tiananmen Square violence opens Year of the Dragon

Police detain scores of Falun Gong members

February 06, 2000|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

BEIJING -- The Year of the Dragon arrived amid violence on Tiananmen Square, but hundreds of millions of Chinese elsewhere greeted the new lunar year happily yesterday with fireworks and raucous celebrations.

More than 50 Falun Gong members were kicked, beaten and detained during the first few minutes of the new year on the square in central Beijing as police broke up the biggest protest in months by the outlawed spiritual group.

Trouble began shortly before midnight, when dozens of members of the sect emerged from a pedestrian tunnel that opens onto the square and sat down in protest.

Columns of police converged on the vast square and closed it to bystanders, most of whom had come to see the bright lights and other decorations on the imposing government buildings that surround the square.

The harsh treatment of the protesters reflected the seething frustration government leaders feel toward the sect, which they have denounced as an "evil cult" and have vowed to destroy. But despite the detentions and arrests of thousands of its members, Falun Gong continues to defy and embarrass China's highest officials.

More members -- or people the police assumed to be Falun Gong members -- showed up on the square later yesterday.

Shortly after 10 a.m., about a dozen of them were hauled away in a police van.

In sharp contrast, most of China welcomed the new year with joyous celebrations.

"Ordinary people like the Year of the Dragon because normally there are no natural disasters, such as floods or typhoons," said Lan You Ming, a 62-year-old farmer in Sishang Village, northeast of Beijing. "Everything is good in the Year of the Dragon for the Chinese people."

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