WASHINGTON, June 14 -- They had valid American passports. They had paid for their tickets. So the State Department wants to know why dozens of Americans were turned away at airports around the United States this week when they tried to fly to Iceland.
The department said today that it was asking Iceland's government for an explanation of why it had ordered the state airline, Icelandair, to refuse passage to American citizens who appeared on a list of [practitioners] of the Falun Gong spiritual movement.
The government of Iceland has an explanation, though it seems a little embarrassed to offer it.
Although Iceland takes pride in free-speech traditions that date from 930, the government does not want protests to interfere with the visit this week of the Chinese president, Jiang Zemin, Iceland's ambassador to Washington said. [...] Mr. Jiang is scheduled to remain in Iceland through Sunday.
The ambassador, Jon Baldvin Hannibalsson, said in a telephone interview that his government worried that the nation's police force, which is unarmed and totals only a few hundred people, "might easily be outnumbered" by Falun Gong protesters. Iceland has no military.
As a result, Icelandair has provided a list of reputed Falun Gong [practitioners] to its check-in desks at airports in the four American cities it serves. Mr. Hannibalsson said the list had been obtained through other European police agencies, not through the Chinese government.
Falun Gong [...] was wildly popular in China until it was banned in 1999.
A spokesman for the movement in Washington, Joe Yin, said that nearly 100 Falun Gong [practitioners] had been turned away by Icelandair, which provides the only flights between this country and Iceland.
Mr. Yin said: "I don't have any negative feelings for Iceland. I just feel sad that they bend to the pressure from the Chinese government."
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