01/13/2005, 00.00
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Police pull plug on Koreans' conference

Beijing (AsiaNews/Scmp) – A group of Seoul lawmakers were forced to cancel a press briefing yesterday after Beijing police turned off the lights.

Four lawmakers from South Korea's opposition Grand National Party arrived in Beijing after visiting the border town of Yanji . They had been investigating the whereabouts of the Reverend Kim Dong-shik, an activist who helped North Koreans cross into the mainland who is suspected of having been abducted by North Korean agents five year ago.

The lawmakers appealed to the central government to show leniency towards North Koreans and give them free passage to a third country of their choice.

Beijing regards North Korean asylum seekers as illegal immigrant, not as refugees. Thousands of North Koreans have been sent back home and repeated incidents of North Koreans storming embassies and foreign school compounds in Beijing have caused diplomatic headaches for Beijing.

But at the start of the press briefing at the Great Wall Sheraton Hotel yesterday, the lights were switched off and reporters were told to leave by plain-clothes police, who claimed the organisers of the conference had not obtained permission from the Foreign Ministry.

With officers blocking the door and preventing the reporters from approaching the lawmakers, a leader of the group, Kim Moon-soo, demanded that the intruders reveal their identities and turn the lights on. "I will not succumb to darkness," he said. "You cannot hold us prisoner."

He demanded to see government documents expressly prohibiting press conferences. The lights were switched on after an hour and 40 minutes when officials from the South Korean embassy arrived, but the standoff continued.

Mr Kim lodged a formal protest with the central government through the South Korean embassy while public security officers hovered around him.

An embassy official said they had not been aware of regulations against holding press conferences. During the six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear crisis, South Korean and Japanese officials had held press briefings in Beijing, she said.

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