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Falun Gong gather in Flushing to protest, educate

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Bearing large banners and yellow "Falun Dafa" sweatshirts, a few hundred Falun Gong practitioners marched down Main Street in Flushing Saturday morning during a weekend filled with Falun Gong events that drew followers from around the globe.

Practitioners came from as far away as Taiwan and Australia to attend the Falun Gong gathering, which was held over the weekend in part to commemorate April 25, 1999, when some 10,000 practitioners converged on Beijing to protest the arrest of followers in Tian Jing, China.

"We basically came here from all across the world to raise awareness for the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners," said Steve Lancione, 20, a student at Northeastern University in Boston. "We feel as though Chinese people in America have been subjected to propaganda of the Chinese government, saying Falun Gong is evil and practitioners of Falun Gong are crazy."

Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, combines philosophies derived from Buddhism and Taoism with special, meditative exercises. The Chinese government began cracking down on the practice in 1999, calling it a "cult" that threatens national stability.

The weekend's Falun Gong events, which organizers expected to draw 2,000 practitioners, including more than 100 from Taiwan, included a morning Falun Gong exercise session in the Queens Botanical Garden, the parade down Main Street ending at 37th Avenue and Union Street in Flushing, a rally in Times Square during which speeches from family members of victims of persecution were made and an "experience sharing" conference held in Purchase, N.Y.

Practitioners said they had heard about the gathering informally through word-of-mouth and e-mail. Many did not know where in Purchase the "experience sharing" conference would be held, but they did not seem bothered by the lack of a formal itinerary.

"Right now we're clarifying truth by just walking around," said Chris Lam, 23, a student at the University of Colorado in Denver, who traveled to the city with about 20 other practitioners from Colorado. "I'm here in support of this group, to let people know how Falun Gong has benefited people's health and mental stability."

Like many other practitioners, Lam handed out literature on Falun Gong to passersby.

Practitioners were responsible for their own travel expenses and accommodations, said Janet Xiong, a Flushing resident who helped organize the gathering.

Shi Zhen Tong, 60, said she came from Taiwan on a plane with about 100 other Falun Gong practitioners and planned to stay three days in New York. She called herself a "professional practitioner" and said she had raised money to come to the event by asking people to sponsor her walking barefoot for many miles.

"My main purpose here is to let people know that practitioners are suffering a lot of torturing in mainland China," Tong said.

Ke Li, who was granted asylum in this country after being arrested in China for practicing Falun Gong, marched through Flushing with his wife and four children.

"A lot of relatives practice Falun Gong in China, but now they hide their practice," he said.

Xiong said she did not have any trouble registering the Flushing Falun Gong parade with police. Because the marching took place on sidewalks and not on the street, it only took one week to approve, she said.

The weekend's events were a chance for Falun Gong practitioners from different parts of the world to meet up and exchange ideas and experiences, Xiong said.

"We always share. If you have some experiences, some questions, other people may have similar experiences," Xiong said. "Faces become familiar - you get to know each other."

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, ext. 155.

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