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Falun Gong gathers in China, but some overseas members held
HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- Falun Gong followers massed in the open in Hong Kong on Saturday without interference by police.
The spiritual organization with a worldwide membership of millions is banned in China but remains legal in Hong Kong, a former British colony that retains local autonomy.
Around 12 overseas followers were barred from entry to Hong Kong and detained ahead of the large weekend gathering, according to a human rights group.
The police presence in Hong Kong's Victoria Park, where the Falun Gong followers met to exercise, was low-key, with participants recorded on video.
More activities, including a conference, are planned for Sunday.
Mainland China outlawed the Falun Gong in 1999, branding it an "evil cult." This week China's propaganda chief ordered the media to double their efforts to expose and attack the group.
Estimates of the numbers involved in Saturday's rally varied between 700 and 900, with participants from many countries including Japan, Korea, Australia, Sweden, Britain and the United States.
"The gathering in Hong Kong is especially meaningful because Falun Gong is banned by the Chinese government while Hong Kong is part of China," said Kan Hung-cheung, the organization's Hong Kong spokesman.
Most of the barred overseas followers were detained on Friday, according to the Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy.
One Australian was put on an aircraft bound for Australia on Saturday morning, but the rest were still being held, a statement said.
Authorities gave no explanation for the action and were preparing to deport the rest, it added.
Sophie Xiao, a spokeswoman for Falun Gong in Hong Kong, said those held had been detained or arrested in China before and had been blacklisted by Chinese authorities.
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