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China detains two underground Catholic priests-group

Written by: Staff

BEIJING, Feb 24 (Reuters) Chinese police detained two underground Roman Catholic priests this week and has held a 70-year-old bishop for three months, the US-based Cardinal Kung Foundation said.

Word of the February 17 detentions of Lu Genjun, 44, and Guo Yanli, 39, while waiting for a friend at a train station in Baoding in northern Hebei province, came ahead of a visit to the United States by President Hu Jintao, expected in April.

It is unclear why the pair were taken into custody. Lu was being held at an undisclosed location, while Guo was sent to a detention centre in Xushui county, the foundation said in a statement today.

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 has claimed as its own since their split at the end of their civil war in 1949.

China says its Catholics must belong to a state-backed church that does not recognise the Pope's authority. The United States has often criticised China for its intolerance of religion.

Lu spent three years in a labour camp until 2004 and it was the fifth time he had been detained. Guo had never been detained.

Bishop Jia Zhiguo, 70, who takes care of about 100 handicapped orphans in his home, had been in detention since November 8, the foundation said without giving a reason.

Jia spent about 20 years in prison and was under intermittent police surveillance when not in prison, the foundation said. It was the eighth time he had been detained since 2004.

Police were unavailable for immediate comment.

Hong Kong's Bishop Joseph Zen, named a cardinal by the Pope, vowed yesterday to stick to his outspoken ways and said he did not see China allowing religious freedom anytime soon.

Pope Benedict's top diplomat has said the Holy See has always been ready to switch diplomatic relations to Beijing from Taipei but that China must respect religious freedom and treat the Vatican fairly.

The Vatican estimates it has 8 million followers in China, compared with about 5 million who follow the state-backed church.


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