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Over 1,000 march in Hong Kong for Ai's freedom

The streets of Hong Kong are seeing over a thousand peaceful protesters demanding the release of vocally anti-Communist Party artist, Ai Weiwei

AFP , Saturday 23 Apr 2011
Hundreds of pro-democracy protesters and artists hold a likeness of detained Chinese artist Ai Weiwei during a march in Hong Kong Saturday, April 23, 2011 as they demand release of Ai. U.S. diplomats will discuss recent disappearances and detentions of Chinese dissidents during human rights talks in Beijing next week, the U.S. State Department said. AP
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More than 1,000 people took to the streets of Hong Kong on Saturday in a noisy and colourful procession to demand the release of detained prominent Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.

Armed with banners, posters, masks and musical instruments, the protesters -- mainly artists -- walked through the city's downtown Tsim Sha Tsui district, chanting slogans including "Free Ai Weiwei" and "Truth is no crime".

There was a brief standoff between police and the group during the two-hour march, when officers told the protesters to divert to a shorter route than they had planned.

Police later relented and there was no violence.

"We are here to support Ai Weiwei. We want Ai and the other activists detained in China to be released immediately," Luke Ching, a spokesman from the organisers, who call themselves "Art Citizens", told reporters.

"Ai Weiwei merely expressed his opinions. There was no trial, he should not remain in custody," said Ching, himself a visual artist.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, has maintained a semi-autonomous status since its return to China in 1997, with a separate legal system and civil liberties not seen on the mainland.

China has launched a crackdown on dissidents in recent weeks, arresting scores of lawyers and campaigners and putting them under house arrest.

They include Ai, a prominent artist and harsh critic of China's Communist Party leaders, who was held in early April for unspecified "economic crimes", sparking worldwide condemnation.

China's crackdown followed anonymous online calls urging activists and dissidents to stage "Jasmine" protests in an echo of the unrest that has swept the Arab world, toppling some authoritarian regimes.

Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders said more than 50 activists have been detained and many more placed under house arrest. Of those detained, the group said nearly 40 have been criminally charged.

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