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Heavy security in Beijing for torch

April 2, 2008

Peace symbol arrives as Tibetan exile calls for end to crackdown

Maureen Fan, Washington Post
Monday, March 31, 2008

(03-31) 04:00 PDT Beijing --

Under heavy security, the Olympic torch was flown into Beijing Monday to
begin an around-the-world tour that was designed to symbolize peace and
harmony but instead has become a lightning rod for anti-government

The passing of the torch occurred a day after the speaker of Tibet's
parliament in exile called for China to end its "brutal" crackdown
against Tibetans and to allow independent observers into the isolated
Himalayan region.

Karma Chophel said at a news conference in Rome that the unrest was a
response by Tibetans to China's hard-line rule over the region, and not
fomented by the Dalai Lama or other exiles.

"Those who know the true fact of the matter know that clearly this is a
genuine outcry and outburst of Chinese misrule over the Tibetan people,"
Chophel said. "Our demand is that (an) independent, neutral, unbiased,
international group should go into Tibet and try to find out the real

Chophel said that violence was continuing in Tibetan areas, and he urged
the international community to do more to stop it.

"According to very reliable sources, a very, very brutal subjugation of
the Tibetan people is going on in Tibet now," he said. "China is waiting
to label Tibetans as terrorists and try to legitimize their crackdown

Demonstrations by Buddhist monks turned deadly March 14 in Lhasa and
other heavily Tibetan areas. Beijing says 22 people were killed in
Lhasa, most of them ethnic Han and Muslim Chinese migrants, while
Tibetan exiles put the overall death toll at 140.

The violence has been a public relations disaster for China's communist
leaders, who want to use the Beijing Olympics this summer to showcase
the country as prosperous and stable.

The torch, encased in a secure van, arrived after 10 a.m. by convoy at
Tiananmen Square, which was closed to the public. It was met by
President Hu Jintao and other members of China's Politburo, the foreign
diplomatic corps and a cheering throng of 4,000 dancers and acrobats and
retired state workers in uniform, waving flags and red-and-gold pompoms.

A chartered Air China plane, specially painted with Olympic symbols,
brought the torch from Greece, where it had been formally handed over to
mark China's assumption of responsibility for the Summer Games,
scheduled to begin Aug. 8. The heavy security was intended to prevent
protests of the sort that occurred last week in Greece.

After official speeches at the square, focal point of the 1989 democracy
demonstrations and the site of joyous celebrations seven years ago when
Beijing won its bid to host the Olympics, the flame was separated into two.

One part, headed to Mount Everest, will travel in a lantern capable of
withstanding high wind and elevations; bearers will have a 10-day window
in May to make an ascent. Two cameramen with state broadcaster CCTV have
been training for more than two years to make the climb, organizers said.

The other part goes to Kazakhstan to begin the round-the-world tour. The
two halves are scheduled to be rejoined in the Tibet Autonomous Region,
where unrest continues despite a heavy police and paramilitary presence,
hundreds of arrests and a general crackdown following deadly rioting in

For security reasons, Olympics organizers declined to describe in detail
the torch's route in advance or say how it would make the 16-mile trip
from Beijing Capital International Airport to downtown. The torch
travels on to Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Tuesday, Istanbul on Thursday and
St. Petersburg on Friday. On April 9, the torch run comes to San Francisco.

China had hoped the Olympics would showcase its economic progress and
harmonious society - a favorite catchphrase of Hu - but the recent
unrest in Tibet has highlighted an ethnic and economic divide.

On Sunday, China voiced its strong dissatisfaction with a European Union
foreign ministers' discussion Friday on the situation in
Tibetan-populated areas. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Czech
President Vaclav Klaus said last week they would not travel to Beijing
for the Games' opening ceremony.

"The Tibet issue is completely China's internal affair. No foreign
countries or international organizations have the right to interfere in
it," said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu, according to the
official Xinhua news agency.

Meanwhile, few new details emerged about a melee in Lhasa on Saturday
that might have been sparked by police security checks. The reports of
fresh unrest came as Chinese officials continued a strong propaganda
push, arresting Tibetans who were involved in the demonstrations and
blaming separatist motivations for the discontent.
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