Protests Intensify On Eve Of China Olympics

PARIS: Police banned demonstrations outside the Chinese embassy in Paris on Thursday but critics of China’s human rights record stepped up protests elsewhere in the world to mark the start of the Beijing Olympics.

Police in the French capital said they did not want a repeat of the “violent disturbances” that broke out in April when the Olympic torch passed through Paris, when activists angry at China’s crackdown in Tibet disrupted the route.

They banned any protests outside the embassy on Thursday and Friday, when the Games officially open, including a demonstration planned for Friday lunchtime by a coalition including media watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

RSF is challenging the ruling in court, and a separate rally at the Trocadero plaza near the Eiffel Tower will still go ahead as planned at 1:00 pm (1100 GMT) Friday, to coincide with the Olympic opening ceremony in Beijing.

China has painted the Games as a celebration of three decades of economic reforms and hopes the event will showcase a rapidly modernising country.

But activists across the world are using the Games to pressure Beijing over its rule of Tibet, the arrests of dissidents, Internet censorship and concerns about Chinese foreign policy.

A total of 127 athletes have called on China’s President Hu Jintao to seek a peaceful solution to the Tibet issue and improve the human rights situation, according to an open letter posted online.

The athletes, including more than 40 competing in the Games, urged Hu “to protect freedom of expression, freedom of religion and freedom of opinion in your country, including Tibet”.

In India, home to more than 100,000 Tibetan refugees including the Dalai Lama, about 1,000 Tibetans staged a march in New Delhi, carrying Tibetan flags and shouting “Say no to Beijing Olympics” and “No Olympics in China”.

“We will keep up our protests during the Olympics to draw attention to human rights violations in Tibet,” said Dhondup Dorjee, vice president of the radical Tibetan Youth Congress.

Police and paramilitary troops were deployed with fire extinguishers and buckets of water amid fears that protesters would set themselves on fire, as a Tibetan did two years ago during a visit by Hu.

In neighbouring Nepal, about 600 Tibetans were detained after they clashed with police while protesting in Kathmandu, police and eyewitnesses said.

About 1,500 Tibetan exiles had gathered in the city to demonstrate against the Chinese crackdown in Tibet. The clashes broke out after monks and nuns praying and chanting mantras refused to disperse.

In Beijing itself, three US Christians were forcefully dragged from Tiananmen Square – scene of a 1989 massacre of pro-democracy protesters – as they prayed publicly, according to a statement on their behalf.

On Wednesday, two US and two British activists had staged a dramatic protest in the city, unveiling giant “Free Tibet” banners near the stadium where the Games will open– a move that got them immediately deported, their group said.

The two Britons, Lucy Fairbrother, 23, and Iain Thom, 24, arrived back in London on Thursday, where they said they had been treated fairly by police who arrested them after the stunt, but warned the protests would continue.

“We are only a very small part of this campaign and the ongoing struggle,” Fairbrother said. “We will carry on fighting and there will be more protests during the Olympic Games.”

In the German capital Berlin, around 100 protesters representing Tibetan groups, Uighurs, Mongolians and the Falun Gong spiritual movement gathered in front of the Chinese embassy, waving flags and holding banners.

The demonstrators tried – and failed – to hand over a petition signed by 10,000 people calling for greater human rights in China organised by a local non-governmental organisation.

In London the Free Tibet campaign was due to hold a protest in front of the Chinese embassy on Friday. They planned to unveil Tibetan flags there at 1208 GMT – the moment when the Olypmics officially kick off.

There were also protests planned in Lisbon and in Porto in Portugal, as well as candle vigils in several Swiss cities and one in Norway.

In Canada, five protestors briefly chained themselves to the gates of the Chinese embassy in Ottawa on Wednesday, and were to be joined on Thursday by two lawmakers, organisers said. – AFP/de

Channel News Asia

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