More than 40 foreign followers of the banned Falungong group were arrested after attempting to hold a protest on Beijing's Tiananmen Square, witnesses and state media said.
Thursday's demonstration was the second this week and came just days before US President George W. Bush is due here for a state visit, with religious freedom expected to figure in his talks with Chinese leaders.
Around 25 people were seen by an AFP reporter and other eyewitnesses being immediately detained on the vast square when they attempted to unfurl banners or adopt Falungong's trademark meditation pose.
Two female followers of the group, the subject of a brutal crackdown since it was banned as an "evil cult" in 1999, were screaming as they were dragged into a police van, the AFP reporter saw.
Later, the state Xinhua news agency said more than 40 "overseas" Falungong followers had been detained in total around the square.
Hundreds of police had been stationed on Tiananmen, and security services appeared to have received prior warning of the demonstration.
The protestors "agitated for the evil cult and produced uproar on Tiananmen Square", Xinhua said.
The demonstration was witnessed by a large number of Chinese and Western tourists in Beijing for the week-long holiday, known as Spring Festival, surrounding Tuesday's Lunar New Year.
Eyewitnesses reported seeing groups of Western tourists being stopped at the edge of the square and asked to produce identity papers.
"This turmoil at the centre of the Chinese capital was aimed to undermine the happy atmosphere at the Spring Festival," Xinhua added.
On Monday two other Western followers of the group, an American and a Canadian, staged a similar demonstration on the square. They were arrested and deported the next day.
The protests bring what is for Beijing deeply unwelcome attention to its crackdown on the group, just a week before Bush visits China.
Religious freedom is expected to be one of the most contentious subjects discussed by Bush in talks with Chinese leaders during his two-day trip beginning on February 21.
Bush is under pressure from domestic religious groups over the subject, particularly following the release in the US Wednesday of what are purported to be leaked Chinese government documents detailing Beijing's drive to crush unauthorized religions.
National holiday periods have often been used by the Buddhist- and Taoist-based Falungong to stage demonstrations, which in the first year after the ban often saw large numbers of Chinese followers demonstrating.
However, such protests have tailed off since five people described by the authorities as Falungong adherents set themselves on fire on Tiananmen Square on last year's Lunar New Year's Eve.
Two of the five protestors -- who Falungong insist were not associated with the group -- died.
Following that incident, the majority of Falungong protests have been by Westerners, who are generally detained briefly and expelled from China.
Human rights groups estimate that hundreds of Falungong followers have been sentenced to jail terms and tens of thousands sent to labour camps since the ban.
The movement says as many as 300 followers have died from brutality in police detention.
Here's one article written a year ago:
And another, written this past december, where this peaceful religious group of practitioners of a slow art of meditative movements and breathing are being linked with a terrorist bombing of McDonalds:
And another, of a group of Falun Gong practitioners visiting Salem this past December, explaining their persecution in China:
And another, about the Falun Gong in Portland:
And one about the chinese gov't actually publishing a book to discredit the Falun Gong:
Makes one wonder what the Chinese Gov't is afraid of here! See any similarities between our and their governmental repression?