Astrophysicist Fang Lizhi, who was expelled from China's Communist Party earlier this year, far from recanting, is sticking to his views about a need for democracy in China.

"I think that over the long term China will become democratic, because it's a common trend throughout the world," said Fang. "I have not changed my views."

Fang has been a popular figure among Chinese students because of his advocacy of academic freedom, democratic rights and independent thinking. He lost his party membership and a university leadership position for allegedly advocating "bourgeois liberalization."

Fang, 51, gave his views in a telephone interview with The Washington Post from Rome before returning to China after a six-week stay in Italy as a visiting scholar. He spoke out again to western reporters at the Beijing airport upon his arrival in the Chinese capital yesterday.

Fang said the Chinese government had denied him permission to travel from Italy to England and then on to the United States, where he has been asked to do research and to lecture.

The government's decision was "unjust," he said.

The astrophysicist was expelled from the Communist Party and fired from his post as vice president of China's leading science and technology university in January after the authorities accused him of inciting student demonstrators, rejecting Marxism-Leninism and calling for the "total westernization" of China.

Student demonstrations calling for western-style freedoms and democracy that reached at least 20 Chinese cities at the end of last year created a backlash from so-called conservatives in the Communist Party leadership and contributed to the downfall of party chief Hu Yaobang.

According to United Press International, Fang told reporters at the Beijing airport that when he advocated westernization for China he meant that the country should "open up in all directions."

"The concept of democracy does not belong to the West," Fang said. "Such things are common to all civilizations, such as physics. You can't talk about western physics and eastern physics -- they are exactly the same. Democratization is a necessary development."

It was the first time that Fang had spoken to western reporters in China since his expulsion from the Communist Party. In the telephone interview, he indicated that he had been advised not to talk with reporters.

Although Fang himself did not say so, a friend claimed that the astrophysicist was speaking out now, because he feared that the authorities would try to silence him once he returned to China.

Fang said the authorities gave him no reason for a decision to deny him permission to attend the 300th anniversary of the publication of Isaac Newton's theory of gravity to be held at Cambridge University in England.

He said the authorities did not want him to go to the United States because it might put him in touch with too many Chinese students there. More than 15,000 students from China are studying in the United States.

Some student demonstrators last year called Fang the Andrei Sakharov of China, referring to the Soviet dissident. But Fang said he did not consider himself a dissident and denied that he had urged students to take to the streets in China, despite allegations from Chinese authorities.