China to investigate attack on Belgian TV crew

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Chinese state media reports that an investigation is underway into an attack on a Belgian television crew.

3 December 2008
BEIJING - China said it has ordered an investigation into an attack on a Belgian television crew who were making a documentary about AIDS victims, state media reported.

The three-member crew from VRT, a radio and TV station, was attacked last Thursday in Henan province, Belgian journalist Tom Van de Weghe told AFP previously, in a case highlighting the risks foreign reporters face covering touchy issues in China.

Cases of hindered foreign reporting are common in China and the government rarely comments on them.

But a Henan provincial spokesman has confirmed the Belgian crew "got into a conflict with villagers and officials in the city of Shangqiu," Xinhua news agency reported Tuesday.

Investigators have been sent to the area to find out what happened, spokesman Wang Yuejin was quoted as saying.

Van de Weghe told AFP how he, an Australian cameraman and a Belgian assistant were set upon by eight men who forced them out of their vehicle.

"It was dark, we were hit many times, sometimes violently. They acted like animals," he said, adding they had been followed all day by two cars.

They eventually escaped to the local airport but only after their attackers took videotapes, money and other possessions, he said.

Henan residents told the VRT crew the attackers were acting for local officials.

The Henan spokesman said four AIDS patients and local officials had demanded the crew's tapes and memory cards out of fear the documentary could "affect their public image," Xinhua said.

The crew was working on a report on AIDS in Henan, where in the 1990s thousands of peasants were infected after selling their blood in a scheme organised by local civil servants who, keen to make money quickly, hadn't put in place the correct medical precautions.

China had previously tried to cover up the blood-selling fiasco and the issue remains highly sensitive.

The incident comes amid tension with Europe over plans by French President Nicholas Sarkozy - who holds the rotating EU presidency - to meet the Dalai Lama this weekend.

China pulled out of a summit with Europe set for this week over Sarkozy's planned audience with the Tibetan spiritual leader.


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