Beijing police stop protest by U.S. Christians

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese plainclothes security officials dragged away three American Christian activists on Thursday after they attempted to protest for religious freedom for a second day near the Olympic host city’s Tiananmen Square.

The three were swooped on as they started a news conference and brief prayer vigil outside the Mao Zedong Memorial Hall, just a day before the Beijing Olympics open.

“We have come here today to speak out against the human rights abuses of the Chinese government,” Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, told a small group of foreign reporters.

“We have come here today to be a voice to those who are in prison because of their religious beliefs,” he added, as security officials held up umbrellas and their hands to prevent the incident being filmed.

As the three knelt to pry, burly officials dragged them away, trying to block reporters from seeing what was happening and trying to grab microphones.

The small group had briefly protested against China’s population control policies and forced abortions on the square on Wednesday until stopped by police. They were then, unusually for security-wary China, allowed to leave.

Four foreign protesters were also held after unfurling Tibet independence banners in Beijing on Wednesday.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie