September 22, 2015 / 11:27 PM / 3 years ago

Rights protesters, China supporters greet President Xi in Seattle

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Dozens of people protesting human rights abuses in China greeted President Xi Jinping in Seattle on Tuesday, forming the first in what is likely to be a series of demonstrations against China’s leader in his week-long visit to the United States.

Practitioners of Falun Gong, who say the religious movement is persecuted in China, protest the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping in Seattle, Washington, September 22, 2015. REUTERS/David Ryder

In downtown Seattle, a crowd supporting Falun Gong, a religious group that says it is repressed in China, waved signs against what it called the country’s systematic theft of prisoners’ organs, among other abuses.

“Falun Gong practitioners have been put into forced labor camps, prisons, and mental hospitals, and they have been killed for their organs,” said Michael Green, 38, of Seattle.

At the same time, a group of pro-Chinese protesters, some of them wearing hats emblazoned with “USA,” waved Chinese and U.S. flags and large red cloth signs that read “Hello President Xi” in Chinese characters.

At one point, supporters attempted to drape a giant flag over a Falun Gong banner that read: “Forced organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners is not tolerated by heavenly principles.”

There were no arrests by late Tuesday afternoon, police said.

China’s official atheist Communist Party does not tolerate challenges to its rule and is obsessed with social stability. Religious activities must be state sanctioned.

In 1999, China’s then-President Jiang Zemin launched a campaign to crush Falun Gong after thousands of practitioners staged a peaceful sit-in outside the leadership compound in Beijing to demand official recognition of their movement.

In Seattle, the Northwest Tibetan Cultural Association also asked members to attend the protest downtown “to highlight the repressive policy of Xi in Tibet,” while unaffiliated activists planned to gather at a nearby park to call on China to curb militarization of the South China Sea.

Earlier this month, Yu Zhengsheng, in charge of religious groups and ethnic minorities and a high-ranking member of the ruling Communist Party, stressed China’s official line that the Dalai Lama, a spiritual leader who fled China in 1959 after an abortive uprising against Chinese rule, is a violent separatist.

“Living in a free world it is our duty to raise our voice for the oppressed and the voiceless,” a local chapter of the Regional Tibetan Youth Congress wrote on its Facebook page.

Xi is also likely to encounter street demonstrations on Wednesday when he tours Boeing Co’s widebody plant in Everett, north of Seattle, nearby Microsoft Corp, and a high school in Tacoma.

Reporting by David Ryder and Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Bill Rigby

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