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INS OFFICIALS PONDERING FATE OF CHINA DEFECTORS

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Immigration authorities must decide whether to grant political asylum to two Chinese diplomats who said they were defecting during an emotional vigil honoring pro-democracy students slain in Beijing, the FBI said.

The Consulate of the People's Republic of China would not confirm the two men had defected, but FBI agents said the pair requested asylum and were under federal protection Sunday.Agents referred the matter to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which decides asylum requests.

A spokesman for David Ilchert, regional INS director, said Sunday that the two had yet to file an asylum request, but he would provide no other information.

White House spokesman Bob Hall said in a telephone interview from Washington that the Bush administration had no official statement yet on the defections.

At a Sunday rally organized by Chinese exchange students in Oakland's Chinatown, some of the 300 demonstrators said they were touched by the diplomats' actions.

"I was really moved when they said they are on our side," said Yu Maochun, an exchange student from the University of California at Berkeley. "I am a Chinese national and I know how brave their action is."

Elsewhere, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs announced Monday that a Chinese diplomat has requested permission to stay in Australia and his application was being considered by the government.