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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Protests rightly focus on the Olympic Games

March 28, 2008

Prague Post
March 26th, 2008

This summer’s Olympic Games are supposed to be China’s “coming-out
party,” with elaborate plans in place to show off the country’s growing
economic and political strength.

For example, Chinese officials plan to stop much of Beijing’s traffic on
the days of the games to lower air pollution. They have moved entire
neighborhoods, and built new buildings. What the Chinese government
hasn’t done is meet international human rights norms. At least 90 people
have been killed in Tibet in recent weeks, in yet another police
crackdown. Peaceful protests have led to bloody streets and a
restriction of media reports to the outside world.

So it’s no surprise that the Olympics is turning into a pressure point
the world community is using to try to persuade the Chinese to lighten
up in neighboring Tibet. Many people are starting to speak out in favor
of boycotting the games, or at least the Aug. 8 opening ceremony.

Stanislav Sedlácek is one of them. The Brno native was among the
pro-Tibetan activists detained for trying to block a group carrying the
Olympic torch in a ceremony in Greece Sunday, March 23, according to the
Czech News Agency.

A number of politicians have also gotten involved in local protests,
including Green Party leaders Martin Bursík and Katerina Jacques, and
former President Václav Havel. Bursík and Prague Mayor Pavel Bém have
both pledged to boycott the opening ceremony in Beijing. And hundreds of
people have marched against the oppression in Tibet in recent weeks in
Prague, a spontaneous outpouring of support from people who know
firsthand about political repression.

It’s good to see Czechs involved in the growing world protest. No voice
is too small in this movement, which is picking up momentum. Bernard
Kouchner, France’s outspoken foreign affairs minister, has called idea
of boycotting the Olympic opening ceremony “interesting.” A former human
rights activist, he said he plans to discuss it with other foreign
ministers from the 27-nation European Union next week.

A boycott of the opening ceremony could embarrass China to soften its
stance on Tibet without hurting the Olympics competition or its
athletes. And it would show that the world community is willing and able
to mount a united front against egregious human rights violations.

Too bad other world leaders don’t agree. Czech President Václav Klaus
and Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek have both said they plan to attend
the games, though they have denounced the Chinese government’s violent
suppression of Tibetan protests. The list of other leaders who plan to
attend, according to International Olympic Committee President Jacques
Rogge, includes U.S. President George W. Bush, German Chancellor Angela
Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Since the Chinese have spent the past two or three decades trying to
exterminate Tibetan culture, it might seem a little late in the game for
world leaders to act outraged.

But in the arena of human rights violations, it’s never too late to
speak out.
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