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Merkel talks rights, press freedom with China's Wen

Written by: Staff

BERLIN, Sep 14 (Reuters) German Chancellor Angela Merkel pressed Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on the issues of human rights during a meeting in Berlin today and stressed that a free press would be crucial for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

''We spoke about human rights and I made clear that these rights are inalienable, that they apply everywhere,'' Merkel told reporters at a joint news conference.

''With a view to the Olympic Games in Beijing, which we are all excited about, I also stressed the importance of a free press,'' she said.

Chinese state news agency Xinhua announced rules on Sunday requiring foreign media to seek approval to distribute news, pictures and graphics within China.

The rules seek to bar international financial information companies, including Reuters and Bloomberg, from selling news directly to Chinese customers. Xinhua has cited national security concerns as a reason for the measures.

International rights groups have denounced the new regulations as another Chinese attack on freedom of information and a backward step in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The meeting also touched on copyright piracy and Iran's nuclear programme, Merkel said.

''We talked about intellectual property protection and the need for more reliability for those who want to invest in China,'' she said.

Outside the chancellery where Wen and Merkel met, about a dozen members of the Falun Gong spiritual group, which is banned in China, waved banners in protest. A comparable number of China supporters stood next to them holding national flags.

Both Wen and Merkel highlighted the strength of bilateral economic ties, with the Chinese premier saying he expected trade volume between the countries to rise to 80 billion dollars this year from roughly 70 billion dollars in 2005.

However, when Merkel was asked whether Germany could seek changes to a European Union arms embargo on China when it takes over the rotating presidency of the bloc next year, she replied that it was ''not on the agenda''.

Merkel's predecessor Gerhard Schroeder had pressed for a lifting of the embargo, which was put in place after the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989 and which Beijing wants dismantled. Merkel opposed Schroeder's push to lift the ban.

Reuters LL DB2104

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