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Australia seeks release of artist held in China

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BEIJING (AP) — Australia said Tuesday it is trying to confirm reports that a Chinese-born Australian artist had been detained in Beijing ahead of the 25th anniversary of the military clampdown on the student protest centered around Beijing's Tiananmen Square, adding it would try to persuade China to release him if he is being held.

Guo Jian, a former protester in China's 1989 pro-democracy movement, was taken away by Chinese authorities shortly after a profile of him appeared in the Financial Times newspaper in commemoration of the anniversary of the crackdown.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the Australian embassy in Beijing was attempting to confirm with Chinese authorities that the 52-year-old former soldier had been detained.

"As an Australian citizen, we'll do what we can to release him if the case is he's been detained," she told Sky News television in the Australian capital, Canberra.

An Associated Press reporter talked to Guo as he was taken away from his home in suburban Beijing on Sunday night. Guo said he would be held by police until June 15.

It is the latest in a string of detentions of artists, lawyers, scholars and journalists ahead of the Tiananmen anniversary amid intense government efforts to deter coverage by foreign media of its remembrance.

After a stint as a soldier, Guo was studying art in Beijing when he was swept into the 1989 student protests and witnessed the military crackdown that began on the night of June 3, 1989.

"I didn't believe it, even though I had been a soldier," Guo was quoted as saying in an article published in the Financial Times last week. "In the army I had never seen that sort of violence. Then I saw the tracers and people falling around me — they were just gone."

Discussions of the protest and its military suppression are taboo in China, and authorities tighten security ahead of the anniversary each year.

But this year's suppression has been harsher than in previous years, as police round up activists who had received no more than warnings in the past.

Since early May, the authorities have detained or put under house arrest dozens of people, including prominent human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, in an attempt to prevent any commemoration. Other activists have been warned by the authorities not to speak to foreign media.

Police also have cautioned foreign journalists not to cover any sensitive issues leading up to the anniversary or face "serious consequences."

A French broadcaster said its journalists were interrogated for six hours by Beijing police when they were found interviewing people on the street about the events 25 years ago. The journalists were forced to say in front of a police video camera that they did something "very sensitive" that could cause "disturbance," and promise not to do it in the next several days, before police returned their press cards, the broadcaster said.

The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China condemned the practices and called for them to halt.

Guo's latest art work was covering a miniature model of Tiananmen Square with 160 kilograms (350 pounds) of minced pork, which the artist removed once the meat turned rotten, the FT reported.

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Associated Press journalists Isolda Morillo in Beijing and Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.

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