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Coalition Forms to Demonstrate Against China's President


Even Chinese President Jiang Zemin's brief visit to Drexel University Thursday drew a vocal crowd of protesters, demonstrating against China's record on human rights, labor and foreign relations.

According to an outspoken alliance of activists a bit farther north in New England, when he sets foot on Harvard's campus Saturday morning, he should expect more of the same. Much more.

For the last few weeks, the Coalition for Freedom and Human Rights in Asia--a conglomeration of 25 human rights groups--has been planning a wave of demonstrations to be in full gear by later today and to last through the weekend.

According to Coalition members, the events are to protest China's human rights abuses and its suppression of freedom in Tibet, Taiwan and mainland China.

The following events have been planned by members of the Coalition:

* A 48-hour hunger strike at Swedenborg Chapel on the corner of Quincy and Kirkland Streets, beginning Friday morning at 9 a.m. The event, sponsored by the Tibetan Association of Boston, also includes a prayer for freedom and a candlelight vigil at 6 p.m. that evening.

* A showing of the acclaimed documentary, The Gate of Heavenly Peace at Yenching Library Lecture Hall at 7 p.m. Friday night. The film portrays the Chinese government's suppression of student demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

* A "No One is Safe" rally Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. The event will begin in front of the Science Center but may shift to Copley Square in Boston, where Jiang is expected to eat his lunch.

Saturday's more vocal protest will feature outspoken speakers, including Chinese dissident Harry Wu; Tiananmen Square protester Shen Tong; Dawa Tsering, a representative of Tibetan government-in-exile; 10 Buddhist monks from India; several Harvard students, and possibly actor and Tibetan activist Richard Gere, whose trip to Cambridge was not confirmed at press time.

In an interview Thursday night, Coalition spokesperson Tashi Rabgey says that, while most of the Coalition's member organizations are poised to send a clear and strong message of condemnation to the Chinese government, some of the groups are reluctant to go too far.

Some groups were "not so comfortable about coming out and saying, 'Free Taiwan'--they didn't feel comfortable being so forthright," says Rabgey, adding that "when we talk about the Chinese government, its such an abstraction. This isn't about the Chinese people at all."

But fearing that the country and the University may be conveying the wrong message with the "thousands of people being sent in" to cheer Jiang's visit tomorrow, Rabgey says that she felt it is almost a responsibility to speak out.

With what she terms the University's "open arms attitude" and "red car pet invitation" towards Jiang, she says, the Coalition feels even more justified in sending a strong message.

"You realize...My God! When he's here in our's our responsibility to speak up," she adds.

Rabgey makes it clear that the Coalition's strategy in planning the hunger strike is borrowed from famed activists of the past.

"I think that this is something we borrowed from the non-violent resistance protests by Ghandi" she says. "It stems from India, where the Tibetans have lived for many years."

The Coalition is optimistic about the turnout for the two-day hunger strike and about the impact it will have on Jiang's visit.

"I think everything is going to make a difference," Rabgey says in response to fears expressed by some Coalition members who were worried that Jiang's visit would send the wrong message to the Tibetans and Taiwanese people, one that suggests wide support for Jiang among members of the Harvard community.

The Coalition is projecting that they will be joined by more than 5,000 students, faculty and others from outside of Harvard at tomorrow's rally.

"I think people will be really surprised in that a lot of people outside the Harvard community will be there," Rabgey says. "This is something that touches a lot of people--human rights activists, feminists, religious leaders--and China is such a large community, one that cannot help but to touch so many people's lives."

One aspect of Jiang's visit that has angered Coalition members is the University's decision to allow questions to the world leader to be screened.

"Of course human rights questions will be present," Rabgey says. "But they will be worded in a way as to be very comfortable for him to answer."

University spokesperson Joe Wrinn says the questions for Jiang will not be changed from the suggestions submitted beforehand.

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