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Chinese round up activists

Associated Press

BEIJING -- The detention of two of China's most influential dissidents and three other pro-democracy activists underscores the government's stated determination to crush any challenge to one-party Communist rule.

Legislative chairman Li Peng, the Communist Party's No. 2 man, was quoted as saying Tuesday that Western-style democracy was inappropriate for China and that opposition groups would not be tolerated.

Police in two cities went to the homes of Xu Wenli, Qin Yongmin and other members of the fledgling China Democracy Party on Monday night and took them away, relatives and a human rights group said Tuesday.

The police action was one of the most severe since dissidents announced their attempt to form an opposition group in June to challenge the Communist Party's monopoly on power. Since then, police have questioned, briefly detained and harassed the activists.

If organizations seek ''the multi-party system and try to negate the leadership of the Communist Party, then they will not be allowed to exist,'' Li said in an interview carried Tuesday by the official Xinhua News Agency.

In Washington, State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said the United States views Xu's detention ''as a serious step in the wrong direction.''

''We have said for some weeks now that we are disturbed by the recent number of detentions of dissidents that serve to limit political debate in China,'' Rubin said. ''We have repeatedly communicated this view to Chinese authorities.''

Police on Tuesday informed the family of Qin Yongmin that he had been arrested for plotting to overthrow the government, the Hong Kong-based Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China said. The crime carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Police who went to Xu's home Monday night produced arrest and search warrants that identified him as a criminal suspect, said his wife, He Xitong. Unlike previous occasions when Xu was held only for short periods, his wife feared this time that authorities were planning to charge and convict him.

There was no further word on his situation, she said late Tuesday.

''Xu Wenli has already paid heavily for democracy. I understand that he is ready to pay again,'' she said. ''Xu Wenli won't give up.''

Police ransacked their Beijing apartment, seizing a computer, fax machine, address books, video tapes, a typewriter, more than 1,000 pages of documents and even a telephone, Ms. He said.

Encouraged by China's recent signing of key U.N. human rights treaties, dissidents in many parts of the country have been trying to register the China Democracy Party as required by law but have been rebuffed.

Despite brief police detentions and almost constant surveillance, Xu, Qin and other dissidents continued their efforts, setting up local party branches, taking party oaths and nominating people for party posts.

Qin and Xu began their democracy campaigns in the Democracy Wall protest movement of the late 1970s. Xu served all but three years of a 15-year jail sentence, much of it in solitary confinement, and was released in 1993. Qin, who lives in the central China city of Wuhan, was jailed for several years in the 1980s and then again in 1994-95.

Aside from Qin, police in Wuhan also hauled away two other members of the China Democracy Party, Chen Zhonghe and Xiao Shichang, the Information Center said.

It said a fifth member of the party, Lai Jinbiao, was detained Monday in Hangzhou, in eastern China, after making a speech in a public park demanding the Communist Party carry out political reforms.

And it reported the formal arrest on Monday of one of the party's first organizers, Wang Youcai, who has been detained in an undisclosed location for a month.

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