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'Chair protest' in Hong Kong for Ai's release

by Staff Writers
Hong Kong (AFP) May 2, 2011
Hong Kong pro-democracy supporters staged a 'chair protest' on Monday calling for the release of prominent Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, in a rally held on the eve of his one month detention.

Ai, a harsh critic of China's Communist Party leaders, was taken into custody in Beijing on April 3 for unspecified "economic crimes", sparking worldwide condemnation.

Inspired by one of Ai's installations, the "Fairytale", dozens of supporters brought chairs to Hong Kong's Victoria Park to form the Chinese character for 'prison' and carried placards railing against China's one-party rule.

"Ai Weiwei has been detained for nearly a month now and his whereabouts remain unknown," said Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic and Democratic Movements in China, which led the protest.

"There are many others activists who have also been detained, we want to end this one-party rule," added Lee, who is also a prominent lawmaker.

In his 2007 installation "Fairytale", one of Ai's largest-scale art works, the artist took 1,001 Ming and Qing dynasty wooden chairs to an exhibition in Germany, along with 1,001 Chinese citizens aged between 2 and 70.

The outspoken artist was arrested after Beijing launched its toughest crackdown on government critics in years after anonymous online appeals emerged in February calling for weekly protests to emulate those in the Arab world.

Hong Kong, which maintains semi-autonomous status from China and enjoys civil liberties not seen on the mainland, has seen a series of protests calling for Ai's release.

A rash of graffiti in support of Ai has also appeared on the streets of the financial hub and activists last week briefly projected Ai's image onto a Hong Kong barracks and police headquarters.

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