Reuters International

BEIJING (Reuters) - U.S. rights policies have gone from bad to worse, China said on Thursday, in its annual rebuttal of a State Department report on human rights around the world that criticised China's "severe" crackdown on lawyers.

The U.S. "wantonly infringed upon" civil rights and faced "rampant gun-related crime", said the lengthy report, issued by China's State Council, or cabinet, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Human rights have long been a source of tension between the world's two largest economies, especially since 1989, when the United States imposed sanctions on China after a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators around Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

China's report follows Wednesday's release of the U.S. report, which criticised Beijing's "severe" crackdown on Chinese lawyers and law firms handling cases China considers politically sensitive.

The U.S. report described human rights policies in 199 countries, and also focussed on rights abuses in the Middle East.

China's report, citing American news sources, criticised the United States for inflicting civilian casualties in Syria and Iraq, excessive use of force by police, and U.S. eavesdropping on foreign nationals, including French politicians.

Asked about the U.S. human rights report on Thursday, China's Foreign Ministry said the politicization of human rights was a "futile" effort to interfere in China's stability and development.

"The United States' so-called annual human rights report uses the issue of human rights to make irresponsible remarks about other countries' internal politics," ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular briefing.

China has long rejected criticism of its rights' record and has pointed to its success at lifting millions out of poverty.

Chinese leaders periodically promise citizens democracy and human rights, but President Xi Jinping's administration has launched a sweeping crackdown on dissidents and activists.

On Thursday, Chinese legal authorities formally disbarred a prominent rights lawyer, ending his career. Pu Zhiqiang was handed a three-year suspended sentence last year for writing internet posts the government said would incite ethnic hatred.

(Reporting by Megha Rajagopalan and Michael Martina; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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