German minister unable to meet with Beijing critics during visit

BEIJING (REUTERS) - Germany's Deputy Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel was unable to hold talks with members of Chinese civil society during a visit to Beijing on Tuesday, but declined to comment on why the planned meeting at the German embassy had not taken place.

Mr Gabriel had told reporters travelling with him to China that he would meet with critics of the Chinese government, saying he believed that European politicians had an obligation to show their support for such people.

But he said on Tuesday evening that the meeting "had not taken place in its originally planned form".

Mr Gabriel, accompanied by a large delegation of business chiefs, is on a two-day visit to China.

During talks lasting an hour with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Mr Gabriel raised the issue of human rights and the rule of law. The German Social Democrat (SPD) politician said he was"astonished" when Mr Li said it should be discussed more intensively.

Earlier this month China accused Britain of interfering in its domestic affairs after the British government criticised Beijing's human rights record.

Chancellor Angela Merkel will visit China in July.