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Wood pulls out of Chinese event

Published: 6:22PM Thursday April 05, 2007 Source: One News

North Shore City mayor George Wood has pulled of attending a Chinese cultural performance after calls from the Chinese consulate which believes some of the performers are Falun Gong members.

The theatre group from New York says Chinese communist officials have tried to sabotage their show in most countries they tour and New Zealand is no different.

"We met a similar situation in other countries and cities as well. We're not getting used to it, but we have to face it. I lived in Australia more than 15 years and I don't think this is right because this is a freedom of speech country," said dancer Vina Lee.

The show covers 5,000 years of Chinese culture, but the Communist Party claims it is a Falun Gong event.

Until Tuesday, Wood was booked to attend, but then he phoned the organisers saying he had been called several times by the Chinese consulate. He was told he should not attend because Falun Gong were involved in the production.

"I told him this is independent. We're bringing back traditional Chinese culture," said journalist Wendy Cao.

But not wanting to be embroiled in a cultural conflict, Wood pulled out.

Other mayors are reported to have received similar phone calls, and claims of pressure extend further than Auckland's dignitaries. A Chinese newspaper withdrew ads for the performance and there are reports that students have been told if they are photographed at the event they will not be allowed back in their home country.

"They'll get branded as practising Falun Gong, which obviously will cause them a huge amount of trouble when going back to China because it's banned there," said event organiser Charlotte Cuthbertson.

Both the Chinese consulate in Auckland and the Chinese embassy in Wellington have refused to comment.