April 20, 2006

Hu draws protests

By Paul Eckert, Asia Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit
to Washington on Thursday drew several hundred banner-waving
protesters, including a heckler from the Falun Gong spiritual
movement who gained entry to the White House grounds as a
member of the press corps.

After being formally welcomed by President George W. Bush
at a White House ceremony, Hu was just beginning his response
when a Chinese woman, who had been allowed into the press
section, started shouting. She was escorted away by a uniformed
U.S. guard.

"President Hu, your days are numbered. President Bush, make
him stop persecuting Falun Gong," the woman yelled. U.S.
officials later identified her as Wang Wenyi, 47, a reporter
with The Epoch Times, an English-language publication strongly
supportive of the meditation movement that is banned in China.

The Secret Service charged her with disorderly conduct
under local statutes. The U.S. Attorney's office was weighing
possible federal charges of "willing intimidation or disruption
of a foreign official," said Eric Zahren, spokesman for the
Secret Service.

Outside the White House, hundreds of yellow-clad Falun Gong
disciples, Taiwanese nationalists, and Tibetan youth group
members demonstrated against Hu and his government.

The protesters denounced China's human rights record, its
missile build-up near Taiwan and its 55-year-long rule over the
Himalayan Buddhist region of Tibet.

"Communist Party = Tyranny + Lies," read a yellow banner,
carried by one female member of Falun Gong, which China
outlawed and brutally crushed in 1999.

"Taiwan is not a part of China," read a placard hoisted by
one of around 300 Taiwan activists, who reject China's claim of
sovereignty over the island. Tibetans, mostly U.S.-based
students, called for independence for their homeland.

Falun Gong protesters had shouted slogans late into
Wednesday night near the house where the Chinese delegation was
staying, prompting them to protest to the U.S. government, a
U.S. official said.

The same official said Hu's aides were likely to have been
offended by the White House heckler. "The hardliners on Hu's
team are going to ask, why did it take so long for us to pick
her up. It is not a good thing," said the official, who spoke
on condition of anonymity.

Zahren of the Secret Service said the woman had passed
through "all appropriate levels of security," including a metal
detector. She was allowed into the event under a temporary
press pass.

Falun Gong, which thrives overseas despite being largely
stamped out in China, alleges that government persecution of
the group includes a vast system of concentration camps, where
doctors harvest inmates' organs for transplants.

China has vehemently denied the organ harvest allegations,
which a U.N. investigator is examining.

In remarks at Hu's arrival ceremony, Bush did not mention
Falun Gong, but he said he would discuss human rights. He urged
Hu to allow "the Chinese people the freedom to assemble, to
speak freely and to worship."

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Caren Bohan)