03/02/2006, 00.00
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Hundreds of activists arrested in lead-up to National People's Congress

More than 400 people who wanted to submit petitions were taken away during the night. Dissidents and human rights activists are arrested to ensure the session of the National People's Congress unfolds peacefully.

Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) – In recent days, Chinese police arrested hundreds of dissidents and human rights activists in a bid to prevent unrest and protests during the annual session of the National People's Congress, set to start on 5 March.

Some nights ago, a group of officers entered a hotel near a train station in the south of Beijing and arrested around 400 people.

The group was in the capital to seek to present requests to the Petitions Office. "Seven or eight big vehicles took them away ... I heard they will come back again to arrest more people tonight," said Qian Lili, who has been trying to lobby for a fair trial over the death of her son several years ago.

The campaign of detention and violence against democracy activists in the lead-up to important political events has become a habit: last year, before the congress, 200 people were "apprehended for checks". "This year, they seem particularly nervous, searching for dissidents everywhere. They have been here since February 13," said Liu Xiaobo, an author and democracy activist.

The National People's Congress, the Chinese parliament, gathers nearly 3,000 delegates every year from all the provinces. The encounters will take place in the Great Hall of the People, on the western side of Tiananmen Square, and will go on for some 10 days. The Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) will also take place concomitantly; it has the capacity of consultation and advice-giving to the Congress.

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