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Falun Gong blasts Leavitt

He is accused of reneging on proclamation

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Practitioners of a spiritual movement banned in China are disputing Gov. Mike Leavitt's assertions that he never agreed to sign a proclamation declaring Jan. 8, 2002, Falun Gong day in the state of Utah.

Falun Gong practitioners said during a press conference at the state Capitol Monday that Leavitt made such inferences and then reneged.

"Later we found out he would like to make a few changes" to the proclamation, said Alicia Zhao, a Falun Gong spokeswoman from San Francisco.

Those revisions took longer than expected and, after a meeting with Leavitt's chief of staff Rick McKeown, Falun Gong members learned the governor wanted to take the "neutral way," which meant not signing the proclamation at all.

In being neutral, the Falun Gong says Leavitt has bent to China's will.

For evidence, they note that the governor's change of heart came about the same time he met with Yafei He, minister and deputy chief of mission at the Chinese Embassy, who openly said he would vent China's concerns about Falun Gong to Leavitt.

However, Leavitt maintains he never promised to sign the proclamation and his decision against the idea was coincidental to his meeting with He.

Still, Falun Gong members remain suspicious.

The group has been banned in China since July 1999 — a date which, according to its members, coincided with its membership outpacing the number of registered Chinese in the ruling Communist Party.

Since that time, Falun Gong members say, the government has undertaken a smear campaign against the movement both inside and outside China.

He's comments to Leavitt are part of that campaign, they say.

It isn't the first time a member of the Chinese Embassy or consulate has attempted to sway a U.S. leader about Falun Gong.

Stan Bogosian, the former mayor of Saratoga, Calif., told the Associated Press last year that a few days after he signed a proclamation declaring a week in honor of Falun Gong, two officials from the Chinese consulate urged him to rescind it.

When he refused, Bogosian said the Chinese asked him to remain "neutral" on the issue.

Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson, who declared Jan. 22-28, 2001, Falun Gong week, also met with He.

Falun Gong, also called Falun Dafa, was a topic, and He expressed Olympic safety concerns, which Anderson forwarded to the police department.

It was Anderson's administration that granted the Falun Gong permission to protest during the Winter Games.

Members, who insist they are a peaceful group, say they will use that time to conduct their yoga-like spiritual movements and distribute literature about Chinese persecution.

They say thousands have died from torture at the government's hands.

The Chinese government, on the other hand, issues regular reports that Falun Gong members have committed mass public suicides or have starved themselves to death while in prison.

Proof, the government says, that the members are part of a doomsday cult.

E-MAIL: bsnyder@desnews.com