Ai Weiwei arrest protests at Chinese embassies worldwide

Inspired by artist's installation with 1001 Qing dynasty seats, curator suggests taking chairs into street in silent protest

Demonstrators all over the world were sitting outside Chinese embassies on Sunday demanding the release of the detained Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.

Hundreds of protestors brought chairs onto the street tocall for the immediate release of Ai, and in support of the rights of all Chinese artists.

In Hong Kong there were scuffles as 150 protestors came up against lines of police, with reports of at least one detention. In Berlin, about 200 people took part in a largely silent protest. There was also a gathering outside the Chinese embassy in London.

Ai was arrested on 3 April at Beijing airport and is being investigated by the Chinese authorities for tax evasion, bigamy and spreading pornography on the web, according to a Hong Kong newspaper. His whereabouts remain unknown.

"Missing" was written across images of the artist, held up by Berlin demonstrators, as they sat on wooden kitchen chairs in the sunshine.

Ai's sister, Gao Ge, doubted the protests would help her brother, "but I don't think they will make his situation any worse," she told the German news agency, dpa.

Inspired by one of Ai's installations, a Canadian curator appealed to artists worldwide via social networking sitesto take chairs out onto the street and sit in silent protest.

In his 2007 installation, Fairytale, Ai took 1,001 Qing dynasty wooden chairs to the German city, Kassel, along with 1,001 Chinese citizens for the Documenta 12 exhibition.

The curator of the Kassel show, Roger Bürgel sat outside the embassy yesterday, perched on a small wooden stool, his son on his knee. "It's crucial to exert pressure now, before they come up with a verdict," he said. "It's really important for the people to realise they have the power to change things. German politicians are being lazy and the west is too easily seduced by China's economic clout. The regime needs to be confronted," he said.

The protest had a special significance for Berlin artists. Ai had intended to open up a studio in the German capital and had an exhibition planned for the end of the month.

In growing political embarrassment for Berlin, two days before Ai's arrest, Germany's foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, opened The Art of Enlightenment exhibition, at China's National Museum on Tiananmen Square.

Westerwelle has demanded Ai's immediate release, but critics say the exhibition should be cancelled. "The red line has been crossed. They need to bring the paintings back," said Agataki, a young Berlin artist at the sit-in. "The Chinese set them one trap after another," said Inge-Ruth Markus, a Berlin pensioner. with fiery red hair. "We are ashamed by the blindness of the German delegation in Beijing."

Abby d'Arcy Hughes

The GuardianTramp

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