China decries call in U.S. to name street after jailed Tiananmen dissident

BEIJING Fri May 30, 2014 7:52am EDT

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BEIJING (Reuters) - China on Friday criticized a group of U.S. lawmakers for calling for a Washington street near the Chinese embassy to be named after imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, behavior it said was "provocative" and "ignorant".

Thirteen members of the U.S. House of Representatives asked Mayor Vincent Gray in a letter to rename part of International Place NW after the 2010 Nobel recipient, saying it would bring "renewed international attention to Chinese human rights violations", the Washington Post reported on Thursday.

Liu, 58, a veteran dissident involved in the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests that were crushed by the army, was jailed for 11 years in 2009 on subversion charges for organizing a petition urging an end to one-party rule.

"A few members of the U.S. Congress doing this, first, is to look down upon and disrespect Chinese law. Secondly, this is very provocative and ignorant behavior," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said.

"What kind of person is Liu Xiaobo? He is someone who violated Chinese law and he has been sentenced according to law by China's judicial bodies," Qin told reporters at a regular press briefing.

The bipartisan group of lawmakers included House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi from California, an outspoken critic of China's human rights record, and Republican Frank Wolf from Virginia.

Chinese leaders have clamped down on dissent ahead of June 4, the 25th anniversary of the date on which troops shot their way into Tiananmen Square in 1989. Mention of the Tiananmen protests is taboo in China, though every year there are public commemorations in Hong Kong.

"Liu Xiaobo remains the world's only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, a symbol of all who languish in prison for exercising their rights," Pelosi said in a speech ahead of the Tiananmen anniversary, the text of which was posted to the website www.democraticleader.gov on Thursday.

Liu is considered a moderate dissident, but critics say the Communist Party is insecure about anything it perceives as a threat to social stability or about what they feel are Western efforts to undermine one-party rule by pushing democratization.

China has never released a death toll for the Tiananmen crackdown, but estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to several thousand.

(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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