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Anti-communist religious sect touches nerve after earthquake

Anti-communist religious sect Falun Gong has come under fire in Flushing during the last week for staging protests against the Chinese government as the country struggles to overcome a devastating earthquake that killed more than 50,000 May 12.

Police in the 109th Precinct said arrests have been made and tickets have been issued as a result of ongoing clashes between Falun Gong followers and Chinese nationalists who have decried their protests.

Anti-communist rallies have occurred nearly every day in downtown Flushing since May 17, and 109th Precinct Detective Kisoo Kim said tensions have been heightened between supporters and detractors of the Chinese government due to the 7.9 magnitude earthquake that struck China's Sichuan Province earlier this month and killed 50,000 people.

"There's a lot of emotion here and that's clearly understandable," Kim said.

Falun Gong followers who attended the protests, which have occurred outside Flushing Library and at the corner of Sanford Avenue and Kissena Boulevard, have accused the Chinese government of orchestrating counter protests that led to the assault and pelting of members of the religious group with bottles and eggs.

"Each week we're seeing acts of increasing belligerence like this, and Falun Gong has become a principal target," said Falun Gong representative Erping Zhang. "It is simply preposterous to see American citizens — and specifically, Americans who are trying to uphold the very values like liberty that are dear to our country — get threatened, berated and assaulted in their own backyards by mobs who answer to a foreign dictatorship.

Kim, who has patrolled the protests himself, said the arrests and summonses have been the result of a few individuals who "got a little aggressive," but that the protests have largely been peaceful.

"Our discretion has been put to the limits, but we're trying to be cautious. We don't want to issue a summons or lock up people. We're just trying to keep the peace the best we can," Kim said. "We understand that tensions are running high after the earthquake. It hasn't been an easy week, but other than a few people taking a little extra initiative, things have gone pretty smoothly."

Calls to the Chinese Consulate-General in Manhattan were not returned for comment.

Falun Gong is a spiritual practice introduced in China in the early 1990s by Li Hongzhi. It grew quickly, but was formally banned by the ruling Communist Party in 1999, creating a clash between the two groups that has lasted to this day.

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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