updated 3/13/2008 3:21:13 PM ET 2008-03-13T19:21:13

China lashed out Thursday at a U.S. report critical of its human rights record, accusing Washington of causing the modern world's "biggest human rights tragedy" in Iraq and of hypocrisy for passing judgment on other nations.

China's State Council, or cabinet, said the U.S. record on human rights was "tattered and shocking" and criticized America for its violent crimes, large prison population and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The invasion of Iraq by U.S. troops has produced the biggest human rights tragedy and the greatest humanitarian disaster in the modern world," the council said in its report.

"It is high time for the U.S. government to face its own human rights problems with courage ... and give up the unwise practices of applying double standards on human rights issues and using it to suppress other countries."

U.S. report accused China
The State Department took China to task this week for widespread human rights violations in an annual report that details increased attempts by authorities to control and censor the Internet and tighten restrictions on freedom of speech and the domestic press.

It noted that "China's overall human rights record remains poor."

The counter-accusations come five months before Beijing hosts the Olympics Games, which have already put the spotlight on the country's human rights record. China is preparing to increasingly defend itself against accusations on everything from its restrictions on religion, its oil purchases from Sudan, and its control of Tibet.

The U.S. report gave a chilling account of alleged torture in China, including the use of electric shocks, beatings, and shackles. It also details claims by citizens forced from their homes to make way for Olympic projects in Beijing.

China has voiced strong opposition to the State Department's annual rights reports, and says it respects and safeguards human rights.

"We resolutely oppose the U.S. issuing such a human rights report every year, and pointing fingers at other countries' human rights. It never reflects on its own human rights, so it cannot justify itself," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said at a news briefing.

‘Open to constructive criticism’
U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Susan Stevenson replied that the U.S. is "open to constructive criticism of its record."

"Issues countries have raised regarding the United States' actions are mirrored in the active debate of our government, free press, NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and civil society. They're a testimony to our commitment to a free, open democratic society," she said.

"The United States looks forward to the day when the Chinese press, NGOs and civil society are allowed to operate freely and to voice open criticism of China's practices."

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the U.S. stands by its report.

"Our assessment isn't one that is out of the mainstream of international opinion concerning the human rights condition in China," he said.

China cites FBI crime statistics
Beijing's report cites FBI crime statistics released last fall showing that violent crime had increased by 1.9 percent from 2005 to 2006, with 1.41 million cases reported nationwide. Multiple cases are listed, including the April 2007 shooting rampage at Virginia Tech University, which left 33 dead and more than 30 injured.

The Chinese report cites news articles saying that 30,000 people die in the U.S. from gunshots every year and gun killings have climbed 13 percent since 2002.

It notes the U.S. has the largest prison system in the world, with the highest inmates-to-population ratio and points to police brutality and other instances where law enforcement officials violated civil rights.

It also says that workers' rights to unionize have been restricted in the United States, with union membership dropping in 2006. It refers to a Human Right Watch report that Wal-Mart stores fought unionization drives by eavesdropping on employee conversations, using camera surveillance and firing workers who favored unions.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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