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China Warns U.S. Against 'Interference' Ahead Of Rights Talks

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CHINA HUMAN RIGHTS

BEIJING (Reuters) – The Chinese government warned on Tuesday against using human rights disputes as what it called a tool to meddle, ahead of talks with the United States that will focus on complaints about Beijing's crackdown on dissent.

The two-day-long human rights dialogue, from Wednesday, with U.S. Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner and other Washington officials, will come at a sensitive time over the issue, long a sore point with Beijing.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said his government was willing to discuss rights issues with the United States as equals. But he warned against what Beijing sees as Western over-reaching.

"When it comes to differences between China and the United States over human rights, the two sides can enhance mutual understanding on a basis of equality and mutual respect," Hong told a regular news conference.

"We oppose any country using human rights issues as an excuse to interfere in China's domestic affairs."

China's position augurs little movement from the talks in Beijing. China has jailed, detained or placed in secretive informal custody dozens of dissidents, human rights lawyers and protesters it fears will challenge Communist Party rule, drawing an outcry from Washington and other Western capitals.

Beijing police have also detained or placed under house arrest members of a Protestant "house" church who have tried to worship outside after they were evicted from the rented premises they had been using.

The U.S. State Department has said it wants to discuss with China "the recent negative trend of forced disappearances, extralegal detention, and arrests and convictions".

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said earlier this month that she was "deeply concerned" about China's clampdown and cited "negative trends", including the detention of Chinese artist and human rights activist Ai Weiwei.

Ai, 53, was detained on April 3 as he was about to board a flight to Hong Kong from Beijing. Chinese police said Ai, a critic of China's ruling Communist Party, was under investigation for "suspected economic crimes".

Hong dismissed foreign criticism of the detention of Ai.

"China does not fear the antagonism of other countries, but of course I hope the countries concerned and their publics will be patient in waiting the outcome of the public security investigation into Ai Weiwei," he said.

Ai's sister, Gao Ge, told Reuters that she hoped pressure from the United States would help free her brother, who she said was being persecuted for his outspoken activism.

"Of course I really hope that Weiwei's case is bought up, that he is supported," she said of the rights dialogue. "I think the whole world is paying attention."

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Alex Richardson)

GROZNY, Russia (Reuters) -- The spiritual leaders of Muslim Chechnya have ordered that all couples who plan to marry prove they are HIV-negative, sparking outrage from activists and residents who say it violates Russian law.

A decade after Moscow drove separatists from power in the second of two wars, Chechnya rests on a shaky peace. Spiritual leaders are gaining influence and power in the region, leading analysts to say Chechnya is evolving towards autonomy once again.

"Any potential bride or groom is obliged to receive a medical certificate proving they are HIV-negative," the Chechen mufti's press service said in a statement this week.

An imam can only approve of a marriage once the HIV-negative certificate is obtained. "Only an official representative from the republic's clergymen has that right," the statement added.

Russia's crippling heroin crisis means it is facing an explosive HIV/AIDS epidemic -- the United Nations says at least 1 million people are HIV-positive -- though Chechnya has been little affected by it.

The order comes after the mufti and other spiritual heads demanded last year a total shutdown of all eateries during the holy month of Ramadan and ordered bands of armed men to harass women who did not wear headscarves.

The mufti's orders have no legal weight but are generally followed because he is a respected spiritual leader and because of his ties to Chechnya's hardline leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

"This is, of course, not within Russian law," said Minkail Ezhiev, a human rights worker and founder of the Chechen Civil Society Forum. "We wish human rights were taken into account here," he told Reuters in Grozny.

The Kremlin relies on Kadyrov, who fought against the Russians in the first war but then switched sides, to maintain order in the violent region in the North Caucasus, where an Islamist insurgency is raging.

But rights workers and analysts say Kadyrov's methods to tame the region include a crackdown on opponents and imposing his radical view of Islam. Kadyrov has dismissed the claims as attempts to blacken his name.

"I fully support the wish to protect people but there is too much power falling into certain hands," said Zelim, a Grozny resident in his early 20s. (Writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman; editing by Noah Barkin)

Copyright 2011 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.

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