Chinese police detained three prominent writers yesterday and released them after a night of questioning in an apparent crackdown on critics of the governing Communist Party, friends...

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BEIJING — Chinese police detained three prominent writers yesterday and released them after a night of questioning in an apparent crackdown on critics of the governing Communist Party, friends and family said.

Analysts said the action could represent a public warning that President Hu Jintao intends to take a hard line against any political relaxation that might weaken the party’s monopoly on power.

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The detained dissidents — Yu Jie, 31, an essayist who once called on the party to remove Mao Zedong’s embalmed body from public display; Liu Xiaobo, 49, a writer who has been jailed three times for criticizing the party; and Zhang Zuhua, 48, an author and political theorist — are among prominent intellectuals who favor greater political openness in the country and have been under official pressure in recent weeks.

Friends said they spoke with Zhang and Liu’s wife today and confirmed the writers had been released. Reached by telephone, Yu said he was released after allowing police to copy everything on his computer.

The officers interrogated him about recent visits to the United States and France, and asked him to confirm he had written about 20 essays they printed from the Internet, he said.

Chinese police sometimes hold dissidents several days for questioning and release them without filing charges. But the simultaneous detentions suggest the leadership has ordered a crackdown.