China Sets Huge Reward
For Arrest Of Falun Gong Leader


BEIJING, Aug 4 (Reuters) - China is offering rewards of at least $6,000 for information leading to the arrest of Li Hongzhi, leader of the banned Falun Gong sect, the semi-official China News Service said on Wednesday.
State television will run a list in mid-August of the country's most-wanted criminal suspects, and "publicly ordering the arrest of Li Hongzhi will be the first task," the article said.
"Public security organs will provide rewards starting at 50,000 yuan ($6,000)," more than six years' salary for an average urban worker, it said.
Interpol on Tuesday rejected a Chinese request for help in detaining Li, saying the approach had religious or political motives.
The international police organization issued a statement saying it had informed Beijing that it could not employ its channels to locate and arrest Li "in the absence of any information about ordinary law crime he would have committed."
Interpol, based in the French city of Lyon, said its constitution forbids it from undertaking "any intervention or activities of a political or religious character."
China wants to arrest Li on charges of organizing demonstrations to disturb public order.
The Communist Party has accused him of trying to replace the government and blamed his group for the deaths of at least 743 people, mainly those who Beijing says shunned medical treatment in favor of meditation to treat serious illnesses.
Falun Gong members stunned China's rulers by surrounding Beijing's Zhongnanhai leadership compound on April 25 in a bold protest against perceived persecution by official media.
Beijing outlawed the sect on July 22 after thousands of members surrounded government offices in 30 Chinese cities in the wake of a crackdown on its leaders.
The group, which combines elements of Buddhism and Chinese mysticism with traditional meditation exercises known as qigong, claims 100 million members, while official estimates put the number at two million.
In New York, where Chinese-born Li now resides, Falun Gong has said the Interpol warrant was based on fabricated evidence. The sect asked the U.S. government to protect Li and to urge China to resolve the situation peacefully through direct talks.
The United States has reacted coolly to the idea of extraditing Li, noting that the two countries have no extradition treaty and that Washington had publicly urged China not to punish people for "peaceful assembly."
China has conducted a sweeping media campaign to discredit the group since it was banned last month.
On Wednesday, newspapers quoted top state religion officials as supporting the ban on what Beijing calls "an evil cult."
"It has spread doomsday theories, claimed it has no strict organization, forbids followers from seeing doctors and worshipped its founder as a god," said Han Wenzao, president of the China Christian Council, the nation's top Protestant group.
Jin Luxian, a senior bishop with the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association -- a state-controlled body which is not recognised by the Vatican -- was quoted in the China Daily as saying Falun Gong sought to deceive and cheat people rather than "love others as they love themselves."
Zhao Puchu, head of the Buddhist Association of China called it a "big cancer" that misuses Buddhist terminology.
Falun Gong's mostly elderly practitioners say its exercises have helped them feel healthy and brought order to their lives.