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Merkel unhappy China blocked lawyer from meeting

BEIJING (AP) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed regret Saturday that Chinese police blocked a human rights lawyer from meeting her and said the Communist government should have the confidence to allow dissent.

The lawyer, Mo Shaoping, said Beijing police told him Thursday he could not attend a dinner and private meeting with Merkel. The order came amid restrictions on Chinese political and human rights activists.

“Unfortunately the lawyer was unable to attend. I regret that,” Merkel told reporters in the southern Chinese business center of Guangzhou at the end of a three-day visit, according to a German government transcript.

Merkel said a country with China’s vitality and dynamic economic growth should have the confidence that even dissident voices are necessary for its society.

The “vitality and plurality of a civil society must be admitted, and it will finally contribute to strengthening the society and its capabilities,” Merkel said, according to the transcript.

Merkel earlier said her talks with Chinese leaders would include discussions of human rights and other “sensitive topics.”

“We have spoken about the overall human rights situation,” she said Saturday. “The issue of Tibet was also discussed, not very explicitly but as one of many issues, which are also worrying for us.”

Merkel canceled a planned visit to Southern Weekend, a newspaper in Guangzhou known for reporting on corruption and other sensitive issues, after Chinese authorities objected, an official with her told German news agency dapd. It said he spoke on condition of anonymity in line with German government policy.

An opposition lawmaker traveling with Merkel, Viola von Cramin-Taubadel of the left-leaning Greens, said her overall impression of the visit was disappointing.

“The Chinese leadership could have spared itself from acting like that,” von Cramin-Taubadel told dapd. She said blocking Merkel from visiting the newspaper office was a sign of “hyper nervousness.”

Mo said he and Merkel had planned to discuss China’s legal environment and lawyers who have suffered from official harassment. Mo has defended imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo and dozens of pro-democracy, labor and religious activists.

Mo said police cited the need to maintain stability ahead of a Communist Party congress late this year. The meeting is a key stage in a once-a-decade handover of power to younger leaders, and the government is cracking down on dissent ahead of the event.

A second invitee from the pro-democracy community said he was able to attend the dinner and a meeting with Merkel.

Wu Si, editor-in-chief of the online journal Yanhuang Chunqiu, said he saw guests from economics, environmental protection and education at the dinner. He said no lawyers were present.

Mo said he had run into similar interference during visits by top officials from France, the Netherlands, the U.S. and the European Union.

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Associated Press writer Juergen Baetz in Berlin contributed to this report.

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