US lawmakers criticize China's human rights

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5 Jun, 2008, 0304 hrs IST, AGENCIES

WASHINGTON: The leader of the House of Representatives urged China on Wednesday to release all political prisoners as senior lawmakers gathered outside the US Capitol building to mark the 19th anniversary of China's crackdown on pro-democracy protesters at Tiananmen Square.

Others used stronger rhetoric to criticize what they see as Chinese abuse of its citizens. Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen called Chinese officials "the butchers of Beijing" and accused the country's leaders of betraying their people and backtracking on promises they made to secure the Olympics.

"Shame on China," she said. Republican Sen. Sam Brownback called China the "leading enabler of human rights abusers around the world."

The Democratic leader of the House, Nancy Pelosi, read from a list of imprisoned dissidents and said the U.S. Congress will not forget them or the "martyrs of Tiananmen Square."

As a large crowd cheered, Pelosi embraced Chinese dissident Yang Jianli, who served five years in Chinese prisons and who finished on Wednesday a 500-mile (800 kilometer) walk from Boston to Washington to draw attention to political prisoners.

The US remembers with "sadness and outrage" how Beijing turned its army on its citizens, Pelosi told Uighurs, Tibetans and other critics of Beijing, many of them holding banners and signs urging better human rights in China.

The gathering in Washington comes as China increasingly lashes out at what it sees as unjust criticism of the country by Western media.

China pledged to improve its human rights situation when bidding to host the 2008 Olympics. Activists have said that releasing political prisoners and allowing exiled student leaders to return would burnish the government's image ahead of the games.

Hundreds, possibly thousands, were killed during the June 3-4 military assault on protesters at Tiananmen Square. The Communist leadership labeled the protest an anti-government riot and has never offered a full accounting of the crackdown.

Human Rights Watch said about 130 prisoners are still being held for their role in the demonstrations, involving tens of thousands of students and others, that started in Tiananmen Square in 1989 and spread to several major cities.