Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister, Tells the Chinese Premier of His Human Rights Concerns

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The Chinese government has vowed to address human rights abuses in the country, claimed the Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern today.

Mr Ahern told the Dáil (Irish Parliament) that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao assured him that his Government would engage in European Union dialogue on the issue in a constructive and meaningful way.

The Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) said that he raised the Chinese occupation of Tibet and the suppression of the Falun Gong spiritual movement during a two-hour meeting with Mr Wen, who is on a two-day state visit to Ireland.

"For decades China refused to engage at all with the various human rights bodies," he said.

"They have now agreed to do so, which is a considerable achievement and they were responding to a request, not a request that I thought up, but a request that human rights bodies have asked us to do. We got that commitment last night and that is an important issue."

Mr Ahern was responding to a question from Green Party leader Trevor Sargent who raised concerns about the human rights record of the Chinese government.

"Since 1997 and up to 2001, Amnesty International reports that 15,000 people per annum have been executed judicially or ex-judicially by the government in China," he said.

"And 69% of capital crimes, as defined in China's criminal law, are non-violent."

Small crowds of rival demonstrators, most of them young Chinese, protested outside Dublin Castle while the meeting was in progress last night.

Mr Ahern, who is the current president of the European Council, said he had followed the EU line during the meeting, which has urged the Chinese government to engage in dialogue about human rights issues, rather than being in a state of denial.

"I stressed, as a number of my other EU colleagues did in this five-country visit, how we believe that the Chinese authorities can do this," he said.

"I emphasised the importance that if China wanted to make and succeed in making progress in some of the other areas, which they are doing and do want to do, that this is an issue that they have to work with the European Union, not to mind other places in the world."

Mr Ahern said he told Mr Wen that enhanced cooperation with outside bodies on human rights issues would help to improve its position in the world.

"They do realise this, they are making efforts to open up, move on and cooperate with other bodies to do this," he said.

"I think if we continue just to lecture them without trying to engage with them, the view is, of Amnesty and others, we will make no progress."

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