China announced criminal charges today against more leaders of the banned Falun Gong movement in a development that underscored the nationwide nature of the crackdown--the biggest since Chinese security forces suppressed student-led demonstrations in 1989.

A Hong Kong-based human rights group, meanwhile, said at least six people have died while in police custody during the three-month-long campaign against the group, which claims 10 million followers in China. One allegedly died after a police beating and another died after a hunger strike, said the Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China.

Chinese news reports and local officials said today that local Falun Gong leaders were charged with various crimes in Qingdao, Hainan Island and Chongqing. A local paper in Jilin, in northeastern China, said seven practitioners were sent to labor camps without trial for one year for "disturbing social order." Four leaders were charged in Beijing earlier this week, including Li Chang, a former official in the Ministry of Public Security.

China has mobilized thousands of police, government officials and journalists to carry out a multipronged attack on Falun Gong and its U.S.-based leader, Li Hongzhi. The campaign has dominated airwaves and newspapers almost constantly since July 22, when the Communist Party first moved to suppress the group.

China's state-run media have declared that Falun Gong represents the most serious threat to stability in 50 years of Communist history--despite the fact that Falun Gong advocates no political position and is basically a mixture of ancient Chinese philosophy, meditation and slow-motion martial arts exercises spiced with doomsday predictions.

"Our attitude must be resolute and clear," said the Communist Party newspaper, the People's Daily, in a front-page commentary. "That is, being thorough in exterminating evil and getting to the root of things."

The paper said Falun Gong's "dying embers would glow again" unless Beijing "dug out lawbreaking leaders behind the scene and crushed their underground organization."

Still, the paper acknowledged that the campaign against Falun Gong would be difficult because some adherents are "obsessed" with its teachings.

For the past month, small groups of protesters have engaged in sit-ins and other peaceful demonstrations against the ban in Beijing. An estimated 3,000 have been detained; most have been released.