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China criticised for arrests

December 13, 2008

BERLIN - Dec 11, 2008 (Reuters) GERMAN Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier criticised China's human rights record in unusually strong terms on Wednesday after reports that two prominent dissidents were briefly arrested earlier this week.
 
'We must not be silent, not towards China either, particularly not today,' Mr Steinmeier said, referring to the arrests, in a speech marking the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
 
Police seized veteran dissidents Liu Xiaobo and Zhang Zuhua late on Monday night and only released them on Tuesday, Mr Zhang said. Both had signed a document calling for reforms to the one-party state, freedom of expression and open elections.
 
Mr Steinmeier, the Social Democrat candidate to challenge conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel in next year's German election, said human rights violations in countries such as China and Russia had to be criticised openly.
 
Mr Steinmeier has in the past taken a less overtly critical stance on democracy issues in these countries than Ms Merkel, favouring quiet diplomacy over public confrontation to achieve improvements on human rights issues.
 
Mr Steinmeier and Ms Merkel clashed last year over the chancellor's reception of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, who China views as a traitor. Mr Steinmeier sharply criticised Ms Merkel for meeting him.
 
Ms Merkel, who sat in the front row as Mr Steinmeier spoke, referred to the clash over the Dalai Lama in her speech to the conference, which was organised by Amnesty International and attended by senior German politicians and diplomats.
 
She also said a balance had to be struck in foreign policy between economic and security interests and human rights.
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