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Amnesty International made its first public appearance Tuesday in China, a longtime target of its human rights campaign, and promptly denounced it for executing criminals in a cleanup of the capital.

"We have heard virtually every excuse from governments to justify human rights violations, but this is simply unbelievable - to welcome the world to Beijing, must people die?" said Pierre Sane, secretary general of the worldwide human rights organization.He was referring to the execution of up to 16 people in China's stated campaign to make Beijing safe for the thousands of delegates attending the U.N.-sponsored Fourth World Conference on Women.

"This is the first time that Amnesty International has been allowed into China, and sitting here in the capital of a country whose government has a grave human rights record, we cannot be silent," he said.

Sane spoke at a news conference at the Beijing Recreation Center, part of the convention complex where the Sept. 4-15 conference will take place.

With no representatives of the state-controlled Chinese media present, the message is unlikely to reach the Chinese public. But the event nonetheless demonstrated how China is being forced to open its doors to some of its most vehement critics as the quid pro quo for being allowed to host a prestigious global event.

Sane, however, said it would have been "extremely, extremely odd" to bar Amnesty International, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, from a conference where the human rights of women are a central issue.

Separately, the Chinese government announced it will allow demonstrations during the conference, but only at one school 30 miles from Beijing, and on condition protesters do not criticize China.

Sane said the organization asked to meet with Chinese authorities during the conference.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Chen Jian later refused the offer, saying it "is not on the agenda" of the women's conference.

"Amnesty International is an organization that has always harbored deep prejudices against China, and its allegations are groundless," he said.

Asked about Amnesty International's denunciation of the pre-conference executions, Chen said these "didn't happen."

The official Beijing Daily reported weeks ago that most of the executions were carried out to ensure public order during the women's conference.

Before Amnesty International began its news conference, Chinese guards took away one of its press packs and briefly posted a watch at the door to the hall, but did not interfere with the proceedings.

Sane said the Chinese have not tried to block or hinder his delegation. But another group, New York-based Human Rights in China, accused China of stalling a visa for its research director.

Sane said Amnesty International was unhappy with the draft of the conference's final declaration, saying "it is astounding" that commitments made by 171 governments at the 1993 U.N. conference on human rights "are barely visible in the platform for action at this stage."