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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Pro-Tibet Activists Disrupt Olympic Flame Ceremony

March 25, 2008

By ANTHEE CARASSAVA
The New York Times
March 25, 2008

ANCIENT OLYMPIA, Greece — Activists angered by China’s crackdown in
Tibet upstaged an Olympic flame-lighting ceremony here Monday, unfurling
a banner and calling for a boycott to the Beijing Summer Games before
they were arrested by police.

The incident occurred as Liu Qi, president of the Beijing Organizing
Committee, was addressing thousands of spectators, dignitaries and
Olympic officials, minutes into a flame-lighting ceremony guarded by
1,000 police officers and commandos concealed in laurel groves.

The brief disruption was broadcast live by Greek national television but
China state TV cut away to a prerecorded scene, blocking millions of
Chinese views from watching the tumultuous start to their nation’s Games.

Authorities released no immediate details of the incident but the Athens
chapter of the Paris-based media rights group Reporters Without Borders
said three of its members had staged the protest stunt.

The French activists remained detained at a local police station and
faced possible criminal charges for evading security, breaking into the
ceremony’s ancient grounds and flashing a black banner depicting the
Games’ trademark Olympic rings as handcuffs.

“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 group said.

Moments after the incident, a Tibetan woman doused herself in red paint
and lay in the road before a torch runner while police arrested two
other Tibetan protesters planning a peaceful demonstration about a mile
from the ancient sanctuary at the birthplace of the Olympics Games.

“They were stalking me from the moment I touched down to Greece ,” said
one of those protesters, Tenzin Dorjee, a Tibetan-American activist who
arrived Saturday to help orchestrate the peaceful demonstrations.

“All we wanted to do was break into the torch relay and shout that this
is a torch of shame as the Chinese government continues to kill hundreds
of our people,” he said in a telephone interview from the police
precinct in Ancient Olympia.

The activist said about 20 undercover police dragged him away from the
central square in Ancient Olympia, detaining him with an accompanying
photographer.

“ Neither of us were injured,” he said. “But I don’t know how long we’ll
be in here,” he said as police cut off telephone connection.

The activist was arrested last April in Tibet for protesting China’s
trial ascent of Mount Everest with the Olympic torch.

China’s leadership has faced a public relations disaster since a spate
of demonstrations turned violent in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa on
March 10, the 49th anniversary of a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

Beijing claims 22 people have died in the clashes but the toll, while
Tibet’s exile movement said Monday that at least 130 Tibetans were
killed. The claims are impossible to corroborate because Chinese
authorities have restricted access to Tibet and other areas of China
with Tibetan populations.

Earlier on Monday, Mr. Dorjee confronted the head of the International
Olympic Committee at his hotel lobby, demanding that Tibet be removed
from the Olympic torch relay, and that dignitaries stage a boycott of
the Games’ Aug. 8 opening ceremony.

The idea, suggested last week by the Paris-based Reporters Without
Borders, touched off a firestorm when French Foreign Minister Bernard
Kouchner said the 27-member European Union was “considering” such a boycott.

He quickly back-peddled from his statement telling French media that it
was “unrealistic.”

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.

On Monday Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic
Committee,, told The Associated Press that he was engaged in a “silent
diplomacy” with Beijing on Tibet and other issues but saw no credible
momentum for a boycott.

The ceremony here marked the official countdown to the Games as Maria
Nafpliotou, a raven-haired actress playing an ancient priestess, ignited
the Olympic flame by the suns’ rays in a burnished-steel mirror mounted
in the ruins of a sanctuary Greeks prayed during the ancient Games in
776 B.C.

 From Olympia, the flame — an iconic symbol of the Games — will be
carried through Greece for a week before taking a seat on a Chinese
flight to Beijing where it will then take off for the longest and most
ambitious relay planned ever; a 137,000 kilometer, 130 day route that
will cross all five continents and climb up the summit of Mount Everest
before finally arriving at the National Stadium in Beijing for the
opening ceremony.
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