December 21, 2005

China priests, nuns defiant in police standoff

BEIJING (Reuters) - Almost 50 Chinese Catholic priests and
nuns holed up for a week in a building they claim as their own
and surrounded by police vowed to stay put on Thursday until
they get their way.

Braving freezing temperatures in the empty building in
northern Tianjin just days before Christmas, the group said
they were not going anywhere.

"We're desperately hoping for a resolution as soon as
possible," priest Wu Jingwei said. "We've not come to cause
trouble and we don't want this to escalate.

"We're priests, we don't fight. We've never experienced
this before. We want the government to take this thing
seriously and sort it out soon," he added.

"But we cannot be frightened out. We will not compromise."

The building, in the former Italian concession in the port
southeast of Beijing, was acquired before the Communist
revolution in 1949, but a few years later was seized by the
government and has never been handed back despite a promise to
do so, the priests say.

The police have already tried to force the priests and nuns
out, injuring several and sending one person to hospital with
head wounds.

An ultimatum to leave by midday Wednesday or "face the
consequences" passed without incident, Wu said by mobile
telephone from Tianjin, an hour's drive from the capital.

Police cars remained outside the building on Thursday, Wu

"This has been going on for decades. We've sent so many
people, written so many letters, made so many phone calls. But
there has still been no result. This is our last resort.
There's no other choice," he added.

The priests and nuns, receiving regular food from
supporters, are members of China's official Catholic church
which does not formally recognize the Pope's authority.

Last week, the group went to Tianjin from the nearby
northern province of Shanxi, where they are based, and
protested in front of the city government.

Tianjin government officials were not available for

Chinese police regularly harass members of the underground
Roman Catholic Church, but generally leave services and
activities of the official church alone.

Beijing has had no ties with the Vatican since 1951 and
insists relations cannot be resumed unless the Holy See severs
links with self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as a breakaway

Land disputes are becoming increasingly common in China.
Residents often take to the streets in protest at buildings
being grabbed by governments or developers without proper

An argument over land appropriated for a wind farm in
southern China erupted into violence this month, and the
government has admitted three protesters were shot dead by

Residents have put the death toll at as many as 20.