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Chinese detain civil society activist

BEIJING — A Chinese businessman who supports a grass-roots group promoting civil society was detained by police on Friday on suspicion of gathering crowds to disturb public order, his friends said, in a sign the government is stepping up efforts to crack down on the loosely organized movement.

Xiao Shu, a family friend, said police officers took venture capitalist Wang Gongquan from his Beijing home for questioning and formally detained him several hours later.

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‘‘We believe this is an absurd allegation. It is impossible for Mr. Wang Gongquan to disturb order at any public place,’’ his supporters said in a written statement, noting that Wang has been advocating peaceful social changes.

Beijing police did not respond to a faxed request for comment on the case.

Wang’s detention followed the detentions of two leading members of the New Citizens movement — Xu Zhiyong and Yang Maodong. Yang is better known by his penname of Guo Feixiong.

‘‘This is an important sign that Beijing wants to nip the New Citizens movement in the bud,’’ Xiao Shu said. ‘‘In the past, the authorities were ambivalent toward civil society, but now how they are treating Gongquan will send a clear signal that they consider the New Citizens movement as a hostile force that should be suppressed.’’

The group’s members have done little more than lobby for rights of rural children and public disclosure of officials’ assets.

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