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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Drama as torch arrival set for Tiananmen; expected respite from protests

March 31, 2008

The Associated Press
Saturday, March 29, 2008

BEIJING: Usually an event free of conflict, the arrival of the Olympic
flame on Monday will be must-watch drama at Tiananmen Square.

The ceremony in the heart of Beijing will be a welcome but brief respite
for the communist government before the torch relay sets off on a
problematic, month-long world tour.

The torch relay was blemished before it even began when a demonstrator
at the lighting ceremony in Greece grabbed headlines by disrupting a
Chinese official's opening address. That was followed across Greece by a
smattering of protests by Tibet activists and Falun Gong supporters.

The flame's arrival on an Air China flight ? the plane had a specially
designed stand to hold the torch ? comes as the outside world watches
deadly anti-China rioting in Tibet and red-robed monks defying police to
speak out against Chinese rule.

Overwhelming security makes protests Monday unlikely, with details about
the ceremony kept scant. However any disruption or security crackdown ?
coming in China's capital and not distant, isolated Tibet ? would shake
confidence that August's Games can prevent such incidents during the

The respite is unlikely to last long.

The Olympics have overwhelming support inside China. All media in the
nation are state-controlled and most people are both patriotic about the
games and supportive of the government line on Tibet: the rioting was
encouraged by Dalai Lama supporters who want to ruin the Olympics and
embarrass China.

The flame goes Tuesday to Almaty, Kazakhstan, and then on to Istanbul
and St. Petersburg, Russia. These stops are not expected to bring
problems, but the following three certainly will: London, Paris and San

London's route on April 6 is sure to be lined by thousands of
demonstrators, who are expected to enact a wreath-laying ceremony to
commemorate those killed in Tibet. The Tibetan government in exile says
140 died, and China says 22.

Pro-Tibet demonstrators are expected to be just as numerous in Paris on
April 7. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is the first European leader
to suggest that a boycott of the opening ceremony is possible.

In San Francisco, the only North American city hosting the torch,
officials shortened the April 9 route through the city and have
abbreviated the ceremonies. Mayor Gavin Newsom has said no one will be
prevented from expressing their views, but permits are required to
gather near the torch.

Another difficult stop comes April 17 in New Delhi. India is home to
Tibet's exile government and many Tibet rights groups are located in the
country. Protests are also expected on April 24 in Canberra, Australia,
and security is being tightened for the April 26 leg in Nagano, Japan.

On Saturday, foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang was forced to respond
to a report that China would send troops to Australia to protect the
torch relay.

"It's purely a rumor with ulterior motives," Qin said on the foreign
ministry's Web site.

United States President George W.Bush and Australian Prime Minister
Kevin Rudd said Friday they want China leaders to meet with the Dalai
Lama to defuse tensions.

"It is absolutely clear that there are human rights abuses in Tibet,"
said Rudd, who served as a diplomat in China and speaks Mandarin.

The flame returns to mainland China on May 4, and will spend the next
three months traveling to more than 100 cities across the country. This
includes a problematic trip to the summit of Mount Everest, at an
unspecified date in May when weather permits. Everest straddles the
border between Nepal and Tibet.

The grandiose relay ? the longest in Olympic history with the most
torchbearers ? was meant to showcase China's rising economic and
political power, and its sovereignty over disputed areas like Tibet.

Instead, it has provided a stage for human rights activists, Muslims in
the far west of the country and critics of China's relationship with
Sudan. It has also helped focus attention on the greatest unrest in
China since the crushing of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement
in 1989.

Taiwan, the self-ruled island that Beijing claims as part of its
territory, is missing from the relay.

Taiwan was excluded after its leaders declined to guarantee that
Taiwanese flags and other signs of separateness from China would be kept
away from the relay route. Taiwan officials also wanted the relay to
enter and depart from Asian neighbors such as Vietnam or Japan to avoid
suggesting that the island is under mainland control. China wanted the
torch to depart for Beijing-controlled Hong Kong.

The torch returns to Beijing on Aug. 6, the preface to the lighting of
the Olympic cauldron on Aug. 8 during the opening ceremony at the
91,000-seat national stadium.

Negative attention to the torch relay may be bad news for the three
sponsors of the relay ? Coca-Cola, Lenovo and Samsung Electronics ? who
have spent tens of millions to raise their profile in China and
ingratiate themselves with communist officials.

"We can only guess that maybe other controversies may come up around the
games in the next few months," said Chris Renner, president for China of
sports marketing consulting firm Helios Partners. Its clients include
Olympic sponsors Volkswagen AG, mining giant BHP Billiton Ltd., and Lenovo.

"It's a tough situation for everyone."
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