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BREAKING NEWS

Sweden replaces China envoy in furore over dissident bookseller

Sweden replaces China envoy in furore over dissident bookseller
FILE PHOTO: Members of the pro-democracy Civic Party carry a portrait of Gui Minhai (L) and Lee Bo during a protest outside the Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong, China January 19, 2016. REUTERS/Bobby Yip/File Photo -
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Bobby Yip(Reuters)
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By Simon Johnson

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden said on Thursday it had replaced its ambassador to China after accusations she held an unauthorised meeting in a quest to free dissident bookseller Gui Minhai.

The Hong Kong-based, Swedish publisher of books critical of China's communist leaders was abducted in Thailand in 2015 and later appeared in custody in mainland China.

His daughter Angela Gui said this week she had met ambassador Anna Lindstedt and two businessmen in Stockholm in January, where she was advised to keep quiet about her father's case while negotiations were proceeding.

Sweden's Foreign Ministry said that was not an official meeting, and Lindstedt had now returned to Sweden with an interim envoy sent to Beijing in her place.

"The Foreign Ministry in Stockholm did not know about these events until the end of January, after the meeting had taken place," a spokeswoman said.

"We have started an internal investigation."

Gui, 54, was released from custody in October 2017, but his whereabouts were unclear until January last year when his daughter said he was seized by Chinese agents on a Beijing-bound train in the presence of two Swedish diplomats. [nL8N1PH57L]

China later confirmed it had detained him.

"I WON'T BE QUIET"

His daughter said Lindstedt had invited her to Stockholm to meet two businessmen who could help secure her father's release.

"The businessman said, 'you care about Anna (Lindstedt), right? If you keep talking to the media it'll damage her career. You don't want her to come to any harm, do you?'", Angela Gui said in the post on blog portal Medium.

"In order for this to happen (negotiations), I was told I needed to be quiet. I wasn't to tell anyone about this, or say anything publicly about the case," she added.

"I'm not going to be quiet in exchange for ... an arbitrary promise that my father 'might' be released. Threats, verbal abuse, bribes, or flattery won't change that."

China's Foreign Ministry declined to comment, with spokeswoman Hua Chunying saying she knew nothing about Gui's latest situation. On its website, China's embassy in Stockholm said it had not authorized anyone to "engage" with Gui's daughter.

"The Chinese side handles the Gui Minhai case in accordance with law and legal procedure," it said.

Gui's original abduction - along with four others in the Hong Kong book trade - fed worries about interference from Beijing despite guarantees of wide-ranging freedoms for the former British colony which returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

The four others have since returned to Hong Kong. The United States and European Union have urged Gui's release.

Lindstedt could not immediately be reached for comment.

(Reporting by Simon Johnson and Johan Ahlander in Stockholm, Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

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