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Chinese quash apocalypse rumors

BEIJING — Chinese police have detained more than 500 people from a fringe Christian group for spreading rumors about the world’s impending end, state media reported Tuesday.

In western China’s Qinghai Province alone, police arrested more than 400 members from the religious cult group, state-run China Central Television said.

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Police seized leaflets, video discs, books, and other apocalyptic materials in the recent arrests of more than 500 people across eight provinces and regions, from the prosperous east coast to less developed western China, state media reports said.

The detentions come ahead of Friday, Dec. 21, a date some say the Mayans prophesied would be the end of the world and was the subject of the apocalyptic movie ‘‘2012.’’

Those detained are reported to be members of the group Almighty God, which is also called Eastern Lightning, after a phrase from the Bible’s Book of Matthew.

Widely regarded as a heretical Christian sect, the group preaches that Jesus has reappeared as a woman in central China. It has been accused of targeting Christians and kidnapping and beating them to force conversions.

Chinese society has been in tumult as decades of rapid free-market economic growth discredit communist ideology, loosen social controls, and pull hundreds of millions from the countryside to the cities.

Into the spiritual void have rushed traditional Buddhist groups and Daoist practices, as well as evangelical Christian churches and other spiritual groups.

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