Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Women's Forum Organizers Demand End to Harassment

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Women's Forum Organizers Demand End to Harassment

Article excerpt

Organizers of the world's largest women's conference gave China 24 hours to stop harassing delegates, and suggested they might cancel the conference if China reneges on a promise to do so.

Officials at the gathering of private women's groups said Saturday that a walkout was unlikely because most delegates, having traveled far to attend the first such gathering in a decade, would be reluctant to leave early.

But the threat reflected growing tension between organizers of the meeting and their host country.

The friction dates back to March, when China abruptly moved the conference to the town of Huairou, an hour's drive from Beijing and from the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women, which starts Monday.

Since the private conference began, delegates have complained of widespread harassment and surveillance by Chinese authorities. On Saturday, the organizers demanded that it end.

After a two-hour meeting with Chinese officials, organizer Rosalind Harris said the Chinese had assured organizers that participants would be "totally free to carry on their activities."

"There will be no security, no censorship and no surveillance," she said.

In China's first comment on the tensions, the state-run Xinhua News Agency issued a report early Sunday denying any conflicts and calling the consultations "friendly and cooperative."

Xinhua also quoted a senior police officer, Zhang Kemian, as denying that police have followed participants, videotaped them or confiscated their materials. But he said tight security was needed to protect the delegates.

"The Chinese police do not wish to see any acts violating China's laws and infringing upon China's sovereignty, or attempts to use the forum to . . . split the country," Zhang was quoted as saying.

Organizers remained wary. Executive director Irene Santiago said that if things hadn't improved by noon Sunday, "appropriate action" would be taken. Searches Of Rooms

What that would be was unclear. Salamo Fulivai, co-leader of the Asia-Pacific bloc at the gathering, said it would be up to the delegates.

"I will call the Asia-Pacific region and say, what do you want - do you want to cancel, do you want to boycott, do you want to riot, or what? …

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