British Cops Admit Curbing Protest

May 3, 2000 LONDON (AP) - London's police force admitted in court Wednesday that some officers broke the law by removing banners and flags from demonstrators who wanted to embarrass Chinese President Jiang Zemin during a state visit last year. The surprise admission was in response to a legal challenge brought by the Free Tibet Campaign, which accused the police of suppressing the protest over the Chinese occupation of Tibet. ``It was unlawful for individual officers to remove banners and flags from people solely on the basis that they were protesting against the Chinese regime,'' lawyers representing the Metropolitan Police told the High Court. They also agreed ``that it would be unlawful to position police vans in front of demonstrators if the reason for doing so was to suppress free speech.'' However, the police maintained the vans were put in front of the protesters to prevent public disorder, not to hide them from Jiang's view during his five-day October visit. The Free Tibet Campaign agreed to accept the police admissions and drop its legal challenge. ``This is a victory for the democratic right to peaceful protest in this country, something sadly lacking in Chinese-occupied Tibet,'' director Alison Reynolds said. An internal police review concluded in March that officers acted reasonably and were not put under any political pressure to keep protesters from annoying Jiang. Prime Minister Tony Blair's government has denied protesters' accusations that it ordered a clampdown on the demonstrations for fear of jeopardizing trade deals. During Jiang's visit, China ordered 28 Airbus planes, made by a consortium including BAE Systems, formerly British Aerospace, worth $2.64 billion. Copyright 1999 Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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