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China expels Western Falun Gong Members

China will expel 35 foreign members of the banned Falun Gong movement after they staged a demonstration in Tiananmen Square. The group, including eight Germans, are expected to be deported today.

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Acting the tourist - a demonstrator being detained after the surprise protest

China is to deport 35 foreign followers of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement on Wednesday after they staged a surprise demonstration on Tiananmen Square on Tuesday.

The protesters, who come from Britain, the US, Canada and several European countries including Germany, were arrested on Tuesday when they unfurled a banner and sat down in the middle of the square.

They were protesting against Beijing's treatment of Falun Gong members.

The group, who refused to move, were then detained by Chinese police. Witnesses said police officers herded the protesters into several mini-vans, carrying some who resisted, and took them to a nearby police station.

China could deport 35 foreign followers of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement as early as Wednesday, Swedish Ambassador Kjell Anneling said after meeting foreign ministry officials. The officials met consular officers from Sweden, Germany, France, Canada, Finland, Switzerland and a number of other countries whose citizens were among the 35.

"It could be today," Anneling told Reuters on Wednesday.

Chinese authorities said the protesters had broken the law on cult membership and assembly, and confirmed that they would be expelled from the country on Wednesday.

An "evil cult"

China banned Falun Gong in 1999, branding it an "evil cult", after the quasi-religious group shocked leaders with a mass protest around the Zhongnanhai leadership compound in Beijing demanding official recognition of their faith.

The group is a mixture of Taoist and Buddhist beliefs and includes traditional Chinese physical exercises. China accuses the movement as trying to overthrow the Beijing government.

The Falun Gong movement accuses Chinese officials of torturing or killing members in detention centres and labour camps. Falun Gong activists overseas say around 300 adherents have died from torture in China and that more than 50,000 members have been sent to prisons, labour camps and mental hospitals in China since it was banned three years ago.

Chinese authorities have acknowledged several deaths of Falun Gong members in custody, but say most resulted from suicide or illness.