Falun Gong supporters defy China

Falun Gong supporters are protesting a decision by Auckland International Airport to remove an advertisement under protest from China.

Two Falun Gong supporters from Marlborough are mounting a silent protest by putting up posters at the Blenheim airport.

Nigel and Jennifer Mahoney manage a cafe at Blenheim airport's called "Propeller".

They say it is their right to display the posters under freedom of speech and say public response to the posters has been mostly positive.

"When I heard what was happening in Auckland, I thought 'goodness gracious', we will have a little bit more spine than Auckland airport," Nigel Mahoney told a local newspaper.

The Chinese called the Auckland airport ad offensive because Falun Gong is banned in China.

The Chinese consulate wrote a letter to the Auckland airport protesting the mini-billboard and the airport took it down.

The airport was widely criticised at the time for bowing to pressure from China.

But Airport Chief Executive John Goulter says the sign was removed purely because he says it did not fit with the airport's policy of being politically neutral.

It is the third anniversary of Beijing's crackdown on the sect with demonstrations taking place around the world.

Falun Gong supporters in America marched through Washington DC's streets in the thousands on Wednesday, preaching compassion, tolerance and forbearance.

Marchers set off from the site of regular anti-Beijing protests outside the Chinese embassy, and reached their destination, the US Capitol, several hours later.

Carrying banners that read "Falun Gong is Good" and "Falun Gong thanks America for its support", devotees set themselves up in a large square on a lawn below the Capitol's west terrace.

Human rights campaigners and members of Congress then addressed a rally, berating China's communist leaders for their treatment of the group, branded by Beijing as an "evil cult".

Some campaigners called for China to be included in the "axis of evil" nominated by US President George W Bush, which includes North Korea, Iran and Iraq.

"If the 'axis of evil' should also include Beijing, it should also include those US businesses building factories that allow those gangsters in Beijing to stay in power," said Dana Rohrabacher, a California congressman often critical of China.

The march was the culmination of three days of events in Washington marking the third anniversary of the banning of the group by the government in Beijing.

A Chinese embassy spokesman today hit out at Falun Gong as US-based followers of the spiritual movement kept a vigil outside.

"With the passage of each passing day, I think people have come to realise, more and more clearly, the true nature of this cult," said embassy spokesman Xie Feng.

"The Falun Gong cult has never stopped breaking (the) law and committing crimes. So it poses a threat to the civilised society."

China officially outlawed Falun Gong as an "evil cult" on July 22, 1999, three months after thousands of followers surrounded Beijing's Zhongnanhai leadership compound to protest at official treatment of the group.

The protest by Falun Gong, which then claimed 80 million adherents in China alone, seriously alarmed top leaders, who responded with a vicious and sustained crackdown.

Since then, thousands of followers have been thrown into labour camps or prison, with a sizeable number dying in custody, according to human rights groups, with the group placing the figure at between 400 and 1,600.