BEIJING, September 15 (AP)--Seeking to stifle meditation sects similar to the banned Falun Gong, China published rules today prohibiting exercise groups from preaching religion and strictly limited their size and activities.

Teachers of the traditional Chinese exercise qigong must register and be certified by sports officials, according to a copy of the rules that appeared in the state-owned China Sports Daily.

Groups have to be small, dispersed, and locally organized, the rules say. Activities with more than 200 participants require police permission.

The rules come amid a 13-month-old crackdown on the multimillion-member Falun Gong, which draws on Buddhism, Taoism, and qigong and uses meditative exercises. The government has rounded up its leaders and winnowed the group's numbers but failed to break its organization.

A commentary published with the rules accused "unwholesome elements" of seizing on the rising popularity of qigong to carry out fraud, spread superstition, and endanger society.

"These problems have seriously affected the normal conduct of healthful qigong activities, harming the interests of the masses," said the preamble of the "Healthful Qigong Management Regulations."

In the most pointed reference to Falun Gong, the rules prohibit qigong groups from spreading "ignorant superstition" or the "deification of individuals." Also banned are Buddhist worship practices associated with the banned group and others like it.

Distribution of unlicensed publications, recordings, and computer materials are forbidden, along with the sale of trinkets that purport to bestow divine consciousness or supernatural powers.

China's officially atheist government labeled Falun Gong an evil cult and accused it of leading some 1,600 adherents to their deaths. At least one other meditation sect, Zhong Gong, has also been banned, its leaders arrested and property confiscated.

Falun Gong denies the government accusations, claiming it promotes health and morality through a system of meditation, slow-motion exercises, and beliefs drawn from Buddhism, Taoism, and the sometimes unorthodox teachings of its founder, a former government grain clerk.

A new anti-cult law passed last year has already added to the government's arsenal against unofficial religious groups.

Exercise groups will not be permitted to use religious language in their teaching, be named after individuals, or have the words China, Asia, world, or universe in their titles, according to the rules.

They will not be permitted to organize in state-run companies, government offices, schools, military bases, and other sensitive establishments.

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