updated 7/1/2008 11:19:57 AM ET 2008-07-01T15:19:57

Authorities will try to avoid confrontations between Falun Gong followers and Chinese tourists when charter flights between Taiwan and the mainland resume this week, a Taiwanese official said Tuesday.

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Falun Gong, a spiritual movement rooted in Buddhism, Taoism and traditional Chinese beliefs, has been persecuted in China, and Beijing banned it as an "evil cult" in 1999. But followers are allowed to practice freely in Taiwan and they have been promoting the movement at sightseeing spots popular with Chinese tourists.

Hundreds of tourists are expected to arrive Friday after the rival sides in June signed breakthrough agreements on charter flights and tourism promotion. Some 36 charter flights will be allowed to cross the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait each weekend.

Taiwan hopes up to 1 million Chinese could visit the island annually under the deal

Last week, Falun Gong followers turned down requests by Tainan municipal government in southern Taiwan to stay away from several popular tourist sites.

Taiwanese tour guides will explain to the Chinese about Taiwan's unrestricted freedom of speech and will ask them to stay calm when facing any protesters, Tourism Bureau official Chang Shi-chung said.

Taiwan authorities want guides handling Chinese tour groups to report any encounters with possible protesters and police will also be monitoring, Chang said.

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, who took office in May, has promised to ease tensions with China and boost Taiwan's sluggish economy with tourism and other close economic exchanges.

Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949. Beijing continues to claim the self-ruled, democratic island as part of its territory, and has threatens war if Taiwan moves to formalize its de facto independence.

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