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Restriction for pro Democracy activists in China

Written by: Staff

BEIJING, Apr 5: An activist who champions democratic elections in China has been prevented from attending a European Union-funded conference on rural self-government that opened in Beijing today.

EU organisers invited Yao Lifa, a democracy advocate who has forged a national reputation by rousing citizens to join in local elections, to the three-day conference on village democracy.

Officials in charge of the meeting said Yao's employer, the Qianjiang Experimental Primary School in central China's Hubei province, sent a fax saying his attendance would ''affect his normal work''.

Yao called the move an infringement of his rights.

''It's absurd that a local government, even a school, can influence the European Union,'' he told Reuters. ''How can an authority like the European Union that stresses rules and democracy ignore rules for a democracy advocate like me?'' But officials in the EU-China Training Programme on Village Governance, which is holding the conference, said they were following established rules and denied their decision was political.

''He was not disinvited. We simply received a formal letter from his work unit saying that they were not agreeing to release him to attend this conference,'' said William Massolin, the European co-director of the programme.

He said conference organisers notified Yao that he could not attend and Yao ''knew very well the problem''.

China's Communist Party keeps a tight grip on higher levels of power but holds up grassroots elections as evidence of its political progress.

But recent protests have highlighted complaints from some residents and activists of rigged or futile ballots. Yao, 48, has often been at the forefront of publicising their claims.

Yao said the school pays him a monthly wage of about 1,100 yuan (137.4 Dollors) but does not expect him to work regularly. He said he was qualified to teach high school classes and had refused to teach younger children, instead devoting himself to political activism.

The school was acting at the behest of local officials irked by his campaigns against corruption and rigged elections, he said. He said his reports highlighting complaints about local elections had also offended many Chinese officials.

''The Communist Party doesn't like democracy and it doesn't exercise internal democracy, so how can it lead truly democratic elections?'' he said.

The programme's Chinese co-director, Xu Qida, showed Reuters a March 31 fax to the primary school in which the organisers acknowledged the request to cancel lift Yao's invitation and apologised for inconveniencing the school.


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