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UN Chief Defends Handling of Human Rights in China

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (l.) meets with China's President Hu Jintao in Beijing on Nov. 1.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is fending off criticism of his failure to discuss human rights during a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

In a statement issued late Monday night (after 10 p.m.) by his office in New York, a spokesman said Mr. Ban has confirmed that he did discuss human rights with other Chinese leaders while in Beijing this week.

Human rights groups had urged Mr. Ban to use his meeting with Mr. Hu to appeal for the release of this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo. But an aide to Mr. Ban told reporters the issue had not come up during the talks, which dealt with securing China's help on conflicts in Somalia and Sudan.

A spokesman for New York-based Human Rights Watch said the group was "shocked" by the omission.

The group noted that two days earlier, Mr. Ban had called on Burma's leaders to free detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

It said that if Mr. Ban was concerned about losing China's support for his re-election as secretary-general next year, he now risks losing the support of those who want a U.N. leader who "is courageous and firm on human rights issues."

The U.N. leader and Mr. Hu met Monday in Beijing's Great Hall of the People. A U.N. spokesman says Mr. Ban called on China to play a greater role in finding political solutions to conflicts in Somalia and Sudan.

China has invested billions of dollars in Africa in recent years, much of it to secure natural resources for the booming Chinese economy.

Some rights groups accuse Beijing of ignoring human rights abuses committed by governments with which it does business. China denies that accusation, saying it is helping to develop Africa's infrastructure.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and BBC.