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Falun Gong members arrive in Bern after "long march"

Falun Gong members began the march in a number of Swiss cities, including Geneva

(Keystone)

Around 40 members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement arrived in the Swiss capital, Bern, on Thursday at the end of a "long march" through Switzerland to raise awareness about the treatment of its members in China.

Members of the group, which is outlawed in mainland China, began the march last Saturday when they set out from Geneva, Zurich, Basel and St Gallen.

Upon their arrival in Bern, the group handed out leaflets reading "Stop the deaths in China" and performed meditation exercises on the main square outside the federal parliament building.

A small delegation of Falun Gong members met briefly with officials from the foreign ministry, during which they handed over a letter addressed to the Swiss government.

"What we are trying to do is focus attention on the plight of Falun Gong members in China," said Simone Schlegel, one of the organisers of the march.

Switzerland, along with many other western countries, has been accused of tempering its criticism of China's human rights record because of the implications this could have for business interests in one of the world's fastest-growing markets.

Swiss foreign ministry spokesman, Ruedi Christen, told swissinfo that Switzerland would broach the issues of religious freedom and human rights with Beijing when a Swiss delegation visits China later this year.

Christen pointed out that Switzerland has engaged in a human rights dialogue with Beijing for the past decade. Further, Bern has called for a greater respect of human rights in China, particularly with respect to the Falun Gong movement.

One of the Falun Gong members who participated in the talks with the Swiss foreign ministry, May Bakhtiar, said the meeting was only the beginning of a long process to end China's alleged clampdown on the movement.

Falun Gong claims that more than 50,000 of its practitioners have been arrested since the Chinese crackdown on the movement began two years ago.

swissinfo with agencies

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