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Beijing curbs antiwar protests

By Willy Wo-Lap Lam, CNN Senior China Analyst

Beijing police officers surrounded the protesters and told them to give up their banners and leave.
Beijing police officers surrounded the protesters and told them to give up their banners and leave.

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HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- Organizers of what would have been the first anti-foreign demonstration by Chinese citizens since 1999 are considering suing the government for forcing them to abort a protest.

The group had secured permission from the Beijing police on Friday to hold an antiwar protest in downtown Chaoyang Park on Sunday.

However, organizers Li Ning and Tong Xiaoxi said they were told by police last Saturday that only 40 people, not 100 as planned, could take part.

The duration also had to be cut -- from five hours to 40 minutes, with no speeches permitted -- and the time was to be brought forward by one hour. Internet publicity was also not permitted.

Li and Tong decided to call off the protest because, they said, "the original purpose for holding the demonstration -- publicity and education -- would be lost."

In a statement issued Sunday, they said they reserved the right to sue the Beijing police for denying citizens their constitutional rights to hold peaceful demonstrations.

On Sunday, police also stopped several students and intellectuals from unfurling antiwar banners in the Wangfujing commercial district.

Authorities also denied permission to a group of antiwar activists in the elite Peking University from leaving their campus.

The only demonstration allowed was a brief rally held by about 150 foreign nationals outside the U.S. embassy.

The official media on Monday carried no word about the demonstrations.

The Xinhua news agency ran a brief dispatch saying "cadres and masses in different parts of the country have expressed their support for the government's stand on the Iraqi issue and they appeal for an end to the war."

Han Deqiang, who initiated a petition on the web condemning the American "invasion" of Iraq, said he was puzzled by the government's effort to stop the demonstrations.

He and other activists said anti-war campaigns would continue to be held in the Internet.

Nearly 3,000 people have signed the anti-war petition, with 500 having put down the names just over the weekend.

A source close to the organizers of last Sunday's demonstration said the Beijing government did not want to offend the U.S. -- and that it was fearful the protests would spread and get out of control.

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