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China angered by Britain's report on human rights, cancels talks

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (L) listens to China's Premier Li Keqiang as the two leaders deliver statements following a signing c
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (L) listens to China's Premier Li Keqiang as the two leaders deliver statements following a signing c

BEIJING/LONDON (Reuters) - China on Tuesday condemned Britain for interfering in its domestic affairs, in response to a human rights report, a day after the British government said Beijing had called off human rights talks.

Britain listed China as "a country of concern" in its annual human rights report last week, saying it had observed increased curbs on freedom of expression, association and assembly in 2013.

It also cited reports of "the forcible suppression of ethnic unrest in Tibet and Xinjiang."

China reacted by calling off talks with Britain on Beijing's human rights record. Chinese and British officials had been due to hold a round of the two-way Human Rights Dialogue in London on Wednesday.

The two countries had agreed to resume the regular meetings during a trip to China by British Prime Minister David Cameron in December.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying accused Britain of issuing the report with "irresponsible remarks made about the Chinese political system, rudely slandering and criticizing China's human rights situation".

Britain must immediately stop using human rights as a pretext for interfering in China's internal politics and judicial sovereignty, Hua told a daily news briefing.

"Britain's path on this issue is not helpful to dialogue and discussion on the subject of human rights, and not good for the stable development of the health of China-U.K. relations," Hua added.

Cameron's visit was aimed at spurring closer trade and business links between Britain and the world's second biggest economy and at drawing a line under a dispute involving Tibet's spiritual leader that had led to a diplomatic freeze.

But Britain's Foreign Office said Beijing had pulled out of the first round of the talks, the resumption of which Cameron had hailed at the time as a significant achievement.

"We are disappointed that the Chinese government last week unilaterally postponed the Dialogue, which was due to take place on 16 April," a Foreign Office spokeswoman said in a statement.

"It is not for us to say why it was postponed. We are now in discussion to agree new dates," she said.

A spokeswoman at the Chinese embassy in London said she was unaware the talks had been canceled.

(Reporting by Megha Rajagopalan in BEIJING and Andrew Osborn in LONDON, Writing by Sui-Lee Wee, Editing by Angus MacSwan and Clarence Fernandez)

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