Join our Mailing List

"For a happier, more stable and civilized future, each of us must develop a sincere, warm-hearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood."

Olympic torch run inflames Tibet protesters

March 26, 2008

Disruption of launch at Olympia first of many set for relay of
'friendship, peace and harmony'

March 25, 2008
Anthee Carassava
New York Times

OLYMPIA, Greece–Demonstrators upstaged an Olympic flame-lighting
ceremony here yesterday, unfurling a banner depicting the Olympic rings
as handcuffs before a Tibetan woman covered in fake blood blocked the
torchbearer's path.

The protests are likely the first of many as the torch begins a 130-day,
137,000-kilometre trek across five continents before arriving at
Beijing's Bird's Nest National Stadium for the Aug. 8 opening ceremony.

Much of the focus will be on a side trip a specially designed torch is
to make through Tibet – site of recent anti-China riots that were
violently suppressed – and up Mount Everest on a day in May when weather
will permit.

The torch trip has upset Tibetan activist groups, which accuse Beijing
of using the event to convey a false message of harmony in the troubled
Himalayan region.

If yesterday is any indication, the relay that China has promoted as "a
journey of friendship, peace and harmony," will be anything but, as
interest groups try to disrupt it to embarrass China and grab headlines
on a host of issues including Tibet and China's policy on Sudan's
troubled Darfur region.

Yesterday, the black protest banner was unfurled by a man who ran behind
Liu Qi, president of the Beijing Organizing Committee, as he addressed
thousands of spectators, dignitaries and Olympic officials, minutes into
a flame-lighting ceremony guarded by 1,000 police officers and hidden

Other protesters ran onto the stadium field.

Three protesters from Paris-based media freedom group Reporters Without
Borders face misdemeanour charges of disrespectful behaviour at a public
event. Police said the men, who had been accredited to attend the
ceremony as journalists, were being held in the nearby town of Pyrgos.

"If the Olympic flame is sacred, human rights are even more so,"
Reporters Without Borders said in a statement. "We cannot let the
Chinese government seize the Olympic flame, a symbol of peace, without
denouncing the dramatic situation of human rights in the country.''

The brief disruption was broadcast live by Greek national television,
but China state television cut away to a pre-recorded scene, blocking
millions of Chinese eyes from the tumultuous event.

Moments later, as torchbearer Haturi Yuuki of Japan approached the
village of ancient Olympia, a Tibetan woman covered in red paint or dye
lay in the road while other protesters chanted "Free Tibet'' and "Shame
on China.''

Yuuki came within a metre or so of the protester, then stopped and ran
in place while plain clothes police officers arrested the woman. Police
also seized a man accompanying her who was waving a Tibetan flag.

Separately, six other protesters from pro-Tibet groups were briefly
detained, police said.

Communist Party official Yin Xunping was quoted by the Tibet Daily
newspaper as blaming the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan
Buddhists, as orchestrating the torch protests.

"The more determined the Dalai clique is to ruin the torch relay and the
Olympic Games, the more hard and good work we need to do on the
preparation and the implementation of all aspects," he said. Greek
officials said politics have no place at the ceremony at the
2,800-year-old birthplace of the ancient games in southern Greece. More
than 1,000 police were deployed ahead of expected protests.

"This is a disgrace," Lampis Nikolaou, a Greek member of the IOC, said
of the protests.

"I am furious with these people ... who did not respect this site.
Whatever their differences with China, they should express them in their
own countries."

Earlier yesterday, a Tibetan-American activist confronted International
Olympic Committee head Jacques Rogge in a hotel lobby, demanding that
Tibet be removed from the Olympic torch relay and that dignitaries stage
a boycott of the opening ceremony.

The idea, suggested last week by Reporters Without Borders, touched off
a firestorm when Bernard Kouchner, France's foreign minister, said the
27-member European Union was "considering" such a boycott.

He quickly backpedalled, telling French media it's "unrealistic" that
such a protest will take place.

The Games, expected to attract 500,000 tourists and 4 billion television
viewers, are being framed by many China observers as the country's
arrival on the world stage.

Yesterday, Rogge said he was engaged in a "silent diplomacy" with
Beijing on Tibet and other issues but saw no credible momentum for a

During yesterday's torch ceremony Maria Nafpliotou, a Greek actress
playing an ancient priestess, used sunrays hitting a burnished-steel
mirror to light the Olympic flame in the ruins of a sanctuary where
Greeks prayed during the ancient Games in 776 B.C.

The flame is being carried through Greece for a week before taking a
seat on a Chinese flight to Beijing, where it will take off for a
five-continent relay – the longest and most ambitious ever planned. Matt
Whitticase of Free Tibet Campaign predicted demonstrations will follow
the flame's 19-city international leg.

"There will be major protests at China's triumphalist use of the Olympic
flame for their own propaganda purposes by taking it through Tibet and
up Mount Everest," Whitticase said.

"Hundreds, if not thousands, of Tibetans will be coming from all over
Europe to protest in London ... and when it goes to Tibet it could set
off another round of protests, it will be hugely inflammatory."

Critics of China's policy on the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan
are also hoping to use the torch relay to put pressure on Beijing,
especially on three stopovers – London, Paris and San Francisco.

A "major focus of activity will be around the official Olympics torch,"
Jill Savitt, director of Dream for Darfur, said in a recent teleconference.

The flame will not be stopping in Taiwan, which China considers its own,
after the self-ruled island decided to withdraw from the relay. Hong
Kong and Macau round out the relay outside the mainland proper.

Security concerns are also expected on the torch's 115-city tour through

The domestic leg begins on May 4 in Hainan Island, once a place of
political exile but now marketed as "China's Hawaii."

All 31 provinces and regions will be visited, including Tibet again on
June 19-21, and the far western province of Xinjiang, home to 8 million
Uighur Muslims and where China said police shot and killed two members
of a "terrorist gang" last month.

With files from AP, Reuters
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank