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Flushing Falun Gong rallies a ploy: Prof

The recent string of rallies and protests in downtown Flushing by supporters of the religious sect Falun Gong is likely not being taken seriously by the area's Asian community, according to a Queens College professor, who said the protests could be a ploy to grab media attention.

Members and supporters of Falun Gong have staged numerous large-scale rallies in downtown Flushing in recent months, drawing thousands in protest of the Chinese Communist Party.

Violence has erupted at several of the rallies and the group has claimed that the Chinese Consulate in Manhattan has orchestrated the attacks to quell the vocal protest against mainland China.

In an interview with TimesLedger, Queens College political science professor Yan Sun, a mainland Chinese immigrant and an expert on East Asian politics and post-communism studies, said Falun Gong's actions in Flushing during recent months are not rational and could be a ploy to raise funds for the group through wider media attention.

"They're generally not taken very seriously. They're a joke. My closest comparison is a Waco kind of cult," Sun said, referring to the Branch Davidian cult that was raided by federal officials in Waco, Texas in 1993. "The organization itself has its own self-interested goals, particularly their founder [Li Hongzhi]. He has raised a good deal of funds, but perhaps they are in need of money and this is a way for them to generate publicity."

Last weekend, Falun Gong supporters in Flushing said they had formed a committee to get state Assemblywoman Ellen Young (D-Flushing) and City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) recalled from their elected posts for not condemning attacks on the group during May and June.

Both Liu and Young immigrated to the United States from Taiwan.

New York does not currently allow recall elections to occur at the state or city level. When questioned about their recall plans, the group then said it would seek to have the politicians removed for disorderly behavior, which is permissable.

Video footage taken of several protests in May outside the Flushing library shows Falun Gong members being surrounded and screamed at by protesters on the street. The footage, taken by New Tang Dynasty Television, based in Flushing, shows protesters breaking signs being held up by Falun Gong members and at one point a man screaming, "If you keep doing this, I'll kill you."

Liu said he has seen the footage several times and believes the 109th Precinct has done an exemplary job of handling the situation, which he added is delicate.

"I'm not a law enforcement official, but I have consulted with everyone from police to prosecutors and they have made assessment of that, and are taking the proper steps to address it," Liu said. "There doesn't seem to be any reason for me as a legislator to second guess what they're doing."

Liu, Young and U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside) have all told TimesLedger that they believe there is no substantiative evidence to support claims that the Chinese Consulate was involved in the attacks.

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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