China arrests 'nearly 1000' members of cult

Chinese authorities have arrested "nearly a thousand" members of a banned religious group, the latest in a series of official moves against a group that China has outlawed as an illegal cult.

China has sentenced dozens of followers of Quannengshen, or the Church of Almighty God, since the murder of a woman at a fastfood restaurant by suspected members of the group in June sparked a national outcry.

Among those arrested were 100 "high-level organizers and backbone members", state news agency Xinhua said, citing a statement from the Ministry of Public Security.

The murder trial is set to open on Thursday, Xinhua said.

The Quannengshen group, which originated in central Henan province, believes that Jesus was resurrected as Yang Xiangbin, wife of the sect's founder, Zhao Weishan, Xinhua said. Zhao is also known as Xu Wenshan, Xinhua said, adding that the couple fled to the United States in September 2000.

In 2012, China launched a crackdown on the group after it called for a "decisive battle" to slay the "Red Dragon" Communist Party, and preached that the world would end that year.

The party brooks no challenge to its rule and is obsessed with social stability. It has cracked down on cults, which have multiplied across the country in recent years. Demonstrations have been put down with force and some sect leaders executed.

Former President Jiang Zemin launched a campaign in 1999 to crush the Falun Gong religious group, banning it as an "evil cult" after thousands of practitioners staged a surprise but peaceful sit-in outside the leadership compound in Beijing to demand official recognition of their movement.

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