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Copyright 1998 Agence France Presse  
Agence France Presse

September 11, 1998 08:43 GMT

SECTION: International news

LENGTH: 676 words

HEADLINE: Dissidents hope to launch party as UN rights chief holds Tibet talks

BYLINE: Lorien Holland


   UN human rights chief Mary Robinson started meetings in the sensitive region of Tibet Friday as dissidents in eastern China held out hopes the ruling Communist Party would approve the first political opposition party.

Robinson was scheduled to meet "people from various circles of Lhasa" and as well as regional leaders, according to a copy of her schedule provided by her spokesman Jose Diaz.

Meanwhile, in eastern China, hopes were running high among dissidents that the Communist government appeared to be softening its hard line on dissent by preparing to approve the first political opposition party since it came to power in 1949.

Activists from eastern Shandong and central Hubei provinces told AFP officials in both provinces had accepted opposition party applications for consideration and had asked for four simple conditions to be fulfilled.

"Three activists went to Hubei Province Civil Affairs bureau this morning and officials told them that they had to fulfill four conditions to register a provincial branch of the China Democracy Party (CDP)," veteran dissident Qin Yongmin said by telephone from Wuhan.

The four conditions were that the party had a capitalisation of 50,000 yuan (6,000 dollars), that details of its headquarters and main organisers were provided, and that there were at least 50 named members.

"We have thought about the possibility that the government is luring us into a trap but we are not afraid. We will fulfill the four conditions and see what happens," Qin said.

"We don't want to move too fast and put too much pressure on the government," he added.

Officials in Shandong province gave the same four conditions to dissidents Xie Wanjun and Liu Lianjun on Thursday when they tried to register the Shandong branch of the party.

"The officials looked at all our existing documentation very carefully and I think that it is possible that the application will be approved," Xie said in a telephone interview.

"In my judgement, such decisions are not made by local officials and it is quite possible that they received directives from the top leadership of the Communist party," he said.

Exiled dissidents in the United States said they were cautiously optimistic over the development.

"We cautiously appreciate this positive gesture as any bit of progress made by the Communist Party towards relaxation and reform is welcome," said Wang Lian, spokesman for the Free China Movement.

"But the registration for the opposition party is still pending and we wish to see it approved and it is obviously too premature to celebrate developments in freedom of association in China," he added.

Over the summer, dissidents in neighbouring Zhejiang province made the first attempt to register the party.

But that application led to several detentions.

Police held about 20 activists associated with the party and activist Wang Youcai was arrested for "incitement to overthrow state power," a reference to his attempt to legally register the party.

He was later released and told to report daily to the police.

"The formal arrest has been changed to a kind of house arrest where the police come to my house everyday and I have to tell them what I am doing," Wang said.

"I don't think the police will press the formal charges," he added.

Robinson's Tibet tour also includes a visit to the historic Potala Palace, Jokhang monastery and a school. She leaves Tibet for Shanghai Saturday morning.

Sources said she would not be visiting a prison for fear of reprisals against inmates in the wake of the trip.

Overseas watchdog groups reported that prison authorities retaliated violently against prisoners who spoke to members of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which visited Lhasa's Drapchi prison last year.

Chinese troops seized control of Tibet in 1951. The region's theocratic ruler, the Dalai Lama, fled into exile eight years later during an abortive anti-Chinese uprising.

Western critics have charged China with "cultural genocide" in the region.



LOAD-DATE: September 11, 1998

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