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Clinton vows to press China on freedoms

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President Clinton says he will speak out on religious freedom during his trip to China next week and urge the communist government to release prisoners of conscience.

"When in China, I will speak as clearly as I can about human rights and religious freedom," Clinton said Thursday in a White House appearance with U.S. religious leaders, including members of a delegation that recently visited China for talks with government officials."Our message is clear: We in the United States believe that all governments everywhere should ensure fundamental rights, including the right of people to worship when and where they choose."

The president also said he would call on China to restart communication with the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader who advocates limited self-rule for the Tibet region of China.

"We believe that China should resume talks with the Dalai Lama," he said. "We believe that prisoners of conscience should be released. I am convinced that dealing directly with the Chinese on these issues is the best way to make a difference, and making a difference is in the end what matters."

The Chinese army entered Tibet, a forbidding plateau region sealed off by the Himalayas, in 1950, the year after the communist takeover. An abortive uprising in 1959 prompted the Dalai Lama to lead an exodus to India of more than 100,000 Tibetans. Further resistance to Chinese rule, which Beijing claims dates back hundreds of years, was virtually broken after a series of riots in the '80s brought Chinese martial law.

Clinton is scheduled to arrive in China on Thursday.

On Monday, a pro-Tibet crowd rallied at the Capitol to call for freedom for Tibet and urge Clinton to address human rights abuses in Tibet and push for Chinese negotiations with the Dalai Lama.

Chinese dissidents, meanwhile, appealed Friday for Clinton to push for greater freedoms during his visit and to meet with a veteran pro-democracy activist.

A group of 57 dissidents, in a fax to foreign news agencies, urged Clinton to meet their Beijing-based representative, Xu Wenli, after a summit with Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

If Clinton does not meet with Xu, his visit will be only a diplomatic coup for the Chinese government, the letter said.