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China slams US body for critical religious report

By Staff
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BEIJING, May 6 (Reuters) Days after a spat with the Vatican over the consecration of bishops, China criticised a US government commission today that accused it of religious persecution.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, in its annual report to Congress and President George W. Bush's administration, designated China, a major trading partner, and 10 other countries as being ''of particular concern'' because of extreme religious persecution.

''The commission ignored what it saw and heard during its visit to China last year and distorted and attacked China's religious and ethnic policies in its report,'' Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said on the ministry's Web site (www.mfa.gov.cn).

Liu said the body ''went as far as to build up'' the Falun Gong spiritual movement, banned by Beijing as a cult in 1999 after about 10,000 adherents besieged the Zhongnanhai leadership compound to demand official recognition for their faith.

''Once again this shows its ignorance and prejudice,'' he said.

Falun Gong says thousands of followers have been jailed and many tortured an accusation Beijing vehemently denies. One of its adherents heckled Chinese President Hu Jintao during his White House appearance alongside Bush this month.

The condemnation of the commission came on the heels of a spat between China and the Vatican over the consecration of two Chinese Catholic bishops this month without papal blessing.

China went ahead with the appointments despite Vatican opposition in a move that threatens to escalate a row over control of church posts and set back rapprochement efforts.

In an unusually strongly worded statement, the Vatican said Pope Benedict learned of the news with ''deep displeasure''. The Pope said the move was a ''grave violation of religious freedom''.

China's 10 million or so Catholics are divided between an ''underground'' church loyal to the Holy See and the state-approved church that respects the Pope as a spiritual figurehead but rejects effective papal control.

The US commission, created by Congress in 1998 to ensure that religious freedom became a central goal of US foreign policy, accused China of conducting ''severe and pervasive violations of religious freedom and related religious rights''.

Liu urged the commission to ''change its course and stop using religious issues to interfere in China's internal affairs so as to avoid further harming it own image''.

''Interfering in China's internal affairs in the guise of religious freedom runs counter to the current good momentum of developing China-US relations,'' he said.

REUTERS SY PM1616

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