BEIJING, April 24 (AP)--Police detained three Falun Gong followers for protesting in Tiananmen Square on Monday, the eve of the first anniversary of a massive demonstration that prompted the Chinese government to ban the spiritual movement.

Amid the throngs of tourists who normally crowd the square, the three middle-aged men raised their arms in a meditation pose associated with the group. Plainclothes police quickly ordered them to put their arms down, and within minutes the three were put in a police van and driven off the square.

Such protests have become a daily sight in Tiananmen Square since the government banned the widely popular group nine months ago. A year ago Tuesday, 10,000 Falun Gong followers surrounded the communist leadership's compound near Tiananmen, silently meditating for a day to protest official harassment.

It was unclear whether followers planned any major protests to mark the anniversary, but in the last few days police have stepped up surveillance of the square and of known Falun Gong members in Beijing.

The April 25 demonstration last year shocked Chinese leaders, who ordered a crackdown on the widely popular group. Thousands of followers have been detained and tens of thousands made to attend government-ordered lectures to force them to renounce Falun Gong.

The government has branded the group a cult and accused it of causing 1,559 deaths and cheating people.

Police in eastern China's Weifang city also arrested three principal Falun Gong members for cheating other followers of 300,000 yuan ($360,000), national state-run newspapers reported Monday.

Tan Weijun, Li Weihua and his wife Li Fang had told followers that Tan was even more powerful than Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi, the Guangming Daily and other newspapers reported. The accounts said they promised Tan's protection if followers donated money.

The newspapers said the three had first concocted the scam in order to pay a 35,000 yuan fine from August for selling Falun Gong literature.

Falun Gong preaches a blend of traditional beliefs, slow-motion, meditative exercises and the unconventional thinking of Li Hongzhi said to promote health and morality. Li, a former government grain clerk, now lives in New York.

Copyright 2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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