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IOC Tells Beijing: Don't Block Internet

April 2, 2008

By STEPHEN WADE
Apr 1, 2008

BEIJING (AP) — The Internet must be open during the Beijing Olympics.
That was the message a top-ranking International Olympic Committee
official delivered Tuesday to Beijing organizers during the first of
three days of meetings — the last official sessions between IOC
inspectors and the Chinese hosts before the games begin in just over
four months.

Beijing routinely blocks Chinese access to some foreign news Web sites
and blogs, a practice it has stepped up since rioting broke out over two
weeks ago in Tibet.

Kevan Gosper, vice chairman of the IOC coordinating commission, said
restricting access to the Internet during the games "would reflect very
poorly" on the host nation.

"This morning we discussed and insisted again," Gosper said. "Our
concern is that the press (should be) able to operate as it has at
previous games."

Gosper said the Chinese had an obligation under the "host city
agreement" to provide Internet access to the 30,000 accredited and
non-accredited journalists expected to attend.

"There was some criticism that the Internet closed down during events
relating to Tibet in previous weeks," Gosper said.

Laws that lifted most restrictions on foreign media went into effect
Jan. 1, 2007. The rules are due to expire in October.

"I'm satisfied that the Chinese understand the need for this and they
will do it," Gosper added.

When asked about Gosper's comments, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang
Yu said China's "management" of the Internet followed the "general
practice of the international community."

She acknowledged that China bans some Internet content, and said other
countries did the same. She declined to say if the Internet would be
unrestricted for journalists during the Olympics.

Gosper spoke after Hein Verbruggen, chairman of the inspection
committee, addressed his Chinese hosts. Without being specific,
Verbruggen noted that China's Aug. 8-24 games had become embroiled in
controversy.

The unrest in Tibet — and China's response — has heightened calls for a
boycott or a partial boycott of the games. This comes in the wake of
worries over Beijing's polluted air, and calls for China to increase
pressure on Sudan to end fighting in Darfur.

The Darfur issue prompted Hollywood director Steven Spielberg to step
down as an artistic adviser for the opening and closing ceremonies.

The torch relay, which left Beijing on Tuesday for Kazakhstan and a
monthlong global tour, is likely to draw protests and blemish an event
Chinese organizers had hoped would generate positive images of the country.

"Clearly in recent times more than ever, the Beijing Games are being
drawn into issues that do not necessarily have a link with the operation
of the games," Verbruggen said. "We're all aware the international
community is discussing these topics, but it is important to remember
that our main focus during these meetings is the successful delivery of
the games operations."

The IOC has refused to speak out against China's actions in Tibet,
saying it is a sporting body, not a political one. It has maintained the
Beijing Olympics "are a force for good" in opening up the country.

Liu Qi, president of the organizing committee, told Verbruggen the
preparations were in the "final stage" but suggested the hosts would not
let up.

"There's a saying in China that if you want to walk 100 steps — though
you have walked 90 — you have finished only half the journey. We still
have 10 steps left, and those 10 are very critical to the whole journey."

The People's Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, warned in an
editorial Tuesday that troubles lie ahead in the four months before the
games.

"With the opening of the games approaching, the burden on our shoulders
is heavier and the task tougher," it said. "We must keep a clear head,
improving our awareness of the potential dangers, and bravely facing all
the difficulties and challenges."
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