25 people detained in Iceland and questioned about Falun Gong movement

REYKJAVIK, Iceland - Twenty-five people were detained Tuesday and questioned about the Falun Gong movement before a four-day visit to Iceland by China's President Jiang Zemin.

The men and women, aged between 25 and 60, were detained after flying into the country from the United States, officials said. Americans, Canadians, Chinese and Australians were among the detainees.

Iceland has barred all Falun Gong practitioners from entering the country in an effort to prevent a large demonstration against Jiang, whose country banned the group in July 1999, calling it a threat to communist rule.

Iceland says it does not have enough police to deal with a very large demonstration against the president, who is scheduled to arrive Wednesday.

Oskar Thormundsson, chief superintendent of police at Keflavik airport in southwest Iceland, said the 25 arrived on two flights early Tuesday morning from Boston and New York.

"We are asking them questions about the purpose of their visit to Iceland," said Thormundsson.

"They were detained because the government has decided that people from Falun Gong, if their purpose is to protest against the Chinese president, will not be allowed to enter the country."

He said they would probably be sent back to the United States.

German student Peter Recknagel, who is studying for a masters degree in Chinese at the University of Frankfurt, was detained in Iceland for six hours Monday before being released.

Recknagel's Swedish-born fiancee Lillian Staf, 26, said last week that she practiced Falun Gong and teaches the movement's methods in Iceland.

Falun Gong followers say it is a peaceful meditation movement and that hundreds of followers have died as a result of police abuse and torture during the Chinese crackdown.

Icelandic Prime Minister David Oddsson called a special meeting of his Cabinet Tuesday to discuss Falun Gong and the problem it poses to the Chinese president's visit.

Bjorn Bjarnason, the former education and culture minister, who resigned his post in a failed bid to become mayor of Reykjavik in elections last month, has criticized the ban.

"The ban is an extraordinary measure to take against Falun Gong and would seem, in my opinion, to be extreme," he told commercial radio Monday.

Meanwhile in Reykjavik, Icelandic followers of Falun Gong were consulting with police chiefs to outline their plans for a series of protests. They have chosen sites close to the Icelandic parliament, which Jiang is expected to visit.

Ministry of Justice officials said last week that they had been alerted by Interpol and authorities in countries such as the United States to a large planned protest against Jiang.

Icelandic embassies and consulates around the world have been told to suspend visas for Falun Gong members until June 18.