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  Shoving Ends China Rights Hearing

By Tom Raum
Associated Press Writer
Friday, January 8, 1999; 3:42 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Rival Chinese dissident groups exchanged shoves and shouts Friday after one group of exiles told a congressional panel that conditions have worsened dramatically in the seven months since President Clinton's visit to China.

The hearing before the House International Relations Committee demonstrated the fractious nature of the Chinese dissident community. Protesters complained that they hadn't been given a chance to testify.

Wei Jingsheng, who spent 18 years in Chinese prisons, told the committee that there had been ``a constant stream of arrests'' since Clinton's visit in June.

``If we do not act swiftly, there will soon be more and more mothers who have lost their sons, wives who have lost their mothers and children who have lost their parents,'' Wei said.

He and other dissidents called on Congress to consider imposing economic sanctions on China, 20 years after the two nations formally established diplomatic ties.

Committee members of both parties seized on the testimony to appeal to administration officials to maintain a hard line next Tuesday in talks in Washington with China's assistant foreign minister, Wang Guangya.

Clinton administration policy toward China is ``a pathetic failure,'' said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

The committee released a recent report by Amnesty International concluding that ``while there has been minor, and mostly symbolic, progress in a few areas, in most areas the situation has actually gotten worse in the last three months.''

Not one Tiananmen Square prisoner has been released since Clinton's visit, China has taken no steps to undertake a review of political prisoners and continues the use of torture, the report said.

The hearing ended in melee between rival dissident groups, provoked by those who complained they hadn't been given a chance to testify.

Committee staff members sought to keep shoving and shirt-pulling antagonists apart until police were summoned to restore order and clear the room.

The fracas began after shouting in Chinese broke out. Looking perplexed, chairman Benjamin A. Gilman, R-N.Y., asked if anyone could translate. But without waiting for an answer, he gaveled the hearing to a close.

Gilman quickly ducked out of the room as the shouting intensified and chairs were knocked over.

The protesters, in particular, criticized the committee's decision to invite Wei and three other former political prisoners.

``We are outraged with the placement of the wrong persons on the panel,'' said a statement issued by a group of Washington-based Chinese dissidents who oppose what they view as Wei's self-proclaimed leadership of the movement.

The statement accused Wei of ``badmouthing the movement inside China'' and called him a ``phony leader.''

Some Washington leaders of the Chinese Democracy Movement had broken with Wei late last year.

Instead, they wanted the House committee to call a panel of witnesses led by Wang Xizhe, another prominent leader of China's democracy movement. ``He is more qualified to testify,'' said Wang Bingzhang, a spokesman for Wang's faction.

Gerald Lipson, a spokesman for the committee, said that Gilman was not aware of the rivalries among the dissidents or that a protest had been planned, and was glad no one was hurt or arrested.

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press

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