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China sets up Games protest zones

July 24, 2008

By Lindsay Beck
Guardian (UK)
July 23 2008

BEIJING, July 23 (Reuters) - China has designated areas in three
Beijing parks for demonstrations during the Olympics, an official
said on Wednesday, with the Games already a lightning rod for protest
over issues ranging from Darfur to Tibet.

Designating "protest pens" is in line with practice at past Games
because the International Olympic Committee charter prohibits
demonstrations or "political, religious or racial propaganda" at
Olympic venues or sites.

But it is nonetheless a surprise in host China, where Communist
leaders frown on public protests, often viewing them as a threat to
stability and its hold on power.

"We have dedicated places for demonstrations at several parks," Liu
Shaowu, director of the security department at Beijing's Olympics
organising committee, told a news conference.

"Chinese law protects the legal right of people to hold lawful
demonstrations and marches."

The parks are in the Beijing districts of Fengtai, Haidian and
Chaoyang, spanning three far-flung areas of the sprawling capital.

Activists advocating for a range of issues, from China's policies in
Tibet to its engagement with Sudan to its record on media freedom and
human rights, have long used the awarding of the Olympics to Beijing
as a platform to press their causes.

But protests related to the Beijing Games burst on to the world stage
after unrest in Tibet in March led to anti-Chinese demonstrations and
counter-protests along the international leg of the Olympic torch
relay, prompting ugly scenes.

Liu said demonstrators would need prior approval to hold protests,
but it was not clear if police would grant approval for any marches
outside of the dedicated parks.

"If they have lawfully applied and the demonstration is approved,
Chinese police can, according to law, protect citizens' rights," he said.

Liu declined to say whether anyone had applied yet or whether there
were certain causes or groups whose applications would be rejected,
deferring such questions to the Beijing police and municipal
government, who he said would handle applications.

Beijing police had no immediate response to a faxed request for comment.

But Liu stressed that preserving security and "social order" would be
the paramount concerns during the Aug. 8-24 Games.

"During the period of the Olympic Games, we have to safeguard smooth
traffic, a good environment and good order in the area of each
competition," he said.
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