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Mon., Jan. 04, 1999 at: Lon 5:44 p.m. Pra 6:44 p.m. NY 12:44 p.m. HK 12:44 a.m.

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Dissidents Rally Behind New York Hunger Strikers

BEIJING, Jan. 04, 1999 -- (Agence France Presse) Dissidents Friday rallied behind hunger strikers protesting outside the United Nations building in New York, while a new group to champion workers' rights was set up here.

U.S.-based activist Wang Xizhe and others participating in the fast were the "sacred heroes" of China, the national forming committee of the fledgling China Democracy Party (CDP) said in a letter received here.

"Using your sacrifice, you are appealing to the rest of the world to pay attention to the fate of one fifth of the population of mankind," the letter said.

The CDP's information center said in a statement that Wang was continuing his hunger strike despite efforts by friends on Thursday to persuade him to call off the protest against an intensified crackdown on political dissent in China.

"He insists on continuing the hunger strike. He said his action was valuable," the center said.

The U.S.-based Free China Movement (FCM) said in a statement received here that after the third day of the fast a physician had found Wang's blood pressure abnormal, his heartbeat weak and periodic arrests in his digestive system.

Wang, the leader of FCM and director of the overseas chapter of the forming committee of the CDP, has accused the Clinton administration of being "virtually silent" on the "grave setbacks" on human rights in China.

The Hong Kong-based Information of Human Rights and Democracy in China said Thursday that China had sentenced poet Ma Zhe to seven years in jail for subversion.

China recently sentenced three prominent CDP members -- Wang Youcai, Qin Yongmin, and Xu Wenli -- to jail terms between 11 and 13 years after convictions for attempting to overthrow the state.

The government has launched a crackdown on supporters who have tried unsuccessfully to register the CDP. No opposition political party has been allowed in China since the communist takeover in 1949.

The CDP national committee urged the government Friday to reform the political system by allowing an opposition party to be formed to counter corruption.

In another development, FCM said several Chinese publications were to set up a Chinese Labor Party to champion the cause of workers, but not challenge the communists.

FCM executive director Shengde Lian said the initiators of the party were editors of several public opinion magazines including Yulun.

"They have set up a steering committee to form the party. Its purpose is to monitor the Communist Party of China and not to compete with it," Lian said.

The move follows the sentencing on Sunday of labor activist Zhang Shanguang to 10 years in jail for "endangering state security."

Lian said the party would take up the interests of workers, including China's army of retrenched workers, and protect their rights. A Web site for the party would be open on Friday.

China does not allow any trade unions or labor organizations other than those sanctioned by the Communist Party and regularly throws unofficial labor organizers into prison.

Lian said the act violated the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which China signed last October.

More than 10 million Chinese workers have been laid off from loss-making state enterprises and plans to cut six million more jobs this year could lead to widespread social unrest as redundant workers are cut off from cradle-to-grave housing, medical care and pensions. ( (c) 1998 Agence France Presse)

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Last updated Mon Jan 4 17:44:49 1999 GMT.