One of the most powerful figures in the Chinese Government, who was accused of human rights abuses when he last set foot in Europe, is to visit Birmingham.

Jia Qinglin is said to be the fourth most powerful member of China's Communist Party Politburo.

Mr Qinglin, who will be on an official trade visit to the UK, has agreed to spend a day in Birmingham on October 22 at the invitation of city council leader Mike Whitby.

The two met when Coun Whitby was in China recently. Mr Qinglin expressed a desire to hear about Birmingham's successful attempts to regenerate the city's economy.

His decision to spend time outside of London is regarded as highly significant by the council.

Mr Qinglin was pursued by protesters when he paid an official visit to Spain in 2004.

A criminal lawsuit was filed in the Spanish courts, accusing him of crimes of genocide and torture against practitioners of the exercise and meditation system of Falun Gong in China.

He was accused of serious crimes against humanity committed during the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners when he was Mayor of Beijing.

The World Organisation to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong claims that Mr Qinglin supported the campaign of persecution launched by former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin.

Mr Qinglin, a close ally of the former leader, was best man at Zemin's wedding.

The Chinese Government described the claims as fabrication. Falun Gong claims millions of followers around the world. Its followers say they are a peaceful lawabiding group, following a philosophy and regime of exercises which lead to spiritu al enlightenment and improved health.

China banned the sect after thousands of members demonstrated in about 30 Chinese cities against the arrest of group leaders.

According to state-run China TV, it is guilty of spreading fallacies, hood-winking people, inciting disturbances and generally jeopardising social stability.

A spokesman for Coun Whitby said: "We have been in close contact with the Foreign Office and the police, who are monitoring the security situation. Whenever you have high-profile Chinese leaders visiting Falun Gong is always an issue."

Coun Whitby (Con Har-borne) said: "It is a great testament to our growing status as a global city that Chairman Qinglin is coming to Birmingham during his visit to the UK - the only city he is visiting outside of London.

"Clearly, our city is now at the forefront of Anglo-Chinese relations, a fact which is already reaping significant benefits to the people of Birmingham, as seen through the recent announcement that Nanjing Automobile Corpora-tion is to restart assembly lines and establish the Longbridge car plant as its European HQ.

"We will be delighted to show the Chairman our successful regeneration schemes that have earned Birmingham accolades across the world. We also want to press our case for hosting the Chinese team for the 2012 Olympic Games and having such an important member of the Chinese Government visit us is a perfect opportunity to do just that".

Councillor Whitby recently returned from a ten-day visit to China where he held talks with officials.