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China warns IOC on political statements

April 11, 2008

Sydney Morning Herald
April 10, 2008

China has warned the Olympics governing body to keep "irrelevant
political factors" away from the Games, after its chief urged Beijing to
honour

pledges to improve human rights.

International Olympic Committee Jacques Rogge said pro-Tibet protests
dogging the torch relay had left the Games in crisis, and publicly reminded

China of its promise to advance human rights.

Hours later, China said it had uncovered a criminal ring planning to
kidnap athletes and others at the August Games.

And Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, said no-one had the right
to tell protesters demanding freedom for his homeland "to shut up" and
said he

felt demonised by the Chinese government.

Rogge said Chinese officials had promised, when they made their bid to
host the 2008 Summer Olympics, that being awarded the Games would

"advance the social agenda of China, including human rights".

"We definitely ask China to respect this moral engagement," he said.

The IOC has so far steered clear of joining in overseas pressure on
China over its crackdown on Tibet and human rights concerns.

But Rogge, after witnessing violent scenes at torch relay legs in London
and Paris and protests in San Francisco, appeared compelled to raise the

issue as the IOC executive board met in Beijing Thursday.

The relay protests had thrown the Olympics into "crisis," he said, but
he believed they would rebound in time for the Games in August.

Sports leaders should reassure athletes that Beijing was on track to
stage a successful Olympics, he said.

"Tell them that whatever they have seen and heard, the Games will be
very well-organised. Tell them that we will rebound from this current
crisis."

The comments drew an immediate response from China, which urged the IOC
to keep "irrelevant political factors" away from the Games.

"I believe IOC officials support the Beijing Olympics and adherence to
the Olympic charter of not bringing in any irrelevant political
factors," foreign

ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters.

"I hope IOC officials continue to adhere to principles of the Olympic
charter," he said, in responding to Rogge's earlier comments on human
rights.

Speaking in Japan on his first foreign trip since unrest broke out in
Tibet last month, Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, reiterated
that he

backed China's right to host the Olympic Games.

But he insisted that nobody had the right to tell protesters demanding
freedom for Tibet "to shut up".

He also said he felt demonised by the Chinese government, which has
accused him of fomenting the recent unrest in Tibet.

"I really feel very sad the government demonises me. I am just a human,
I am not a demon," he told reporters.

On the issue of the ongoing protests, he called for non-violence but
said: "The expression of their feelings is up to them".

"Nobody has the right to tell them to shut up. One of the problems in
Tibet is that there is no freedom of speech.

"Autonomy (in Tibet) is just in name, it is not sincerely implemented.
The crisis is the expression of their (Tibetans') deep regret."

The Olympic torch is now on its way to Buenos Aires in Argentina, after
dramatic scenes in San Francisco, where organisers fearful of more violence

rerouted the leg and halved its length, leaving supporters disappointed
and confused.

Rogge said he was "saddened" by the violent protests in London and
Paris, but believed the stop in San Francisco had been an improvement
and that

the relay would not be cut short.

"It was, however, not the joyous party that we had wished it to be," he
said in Beijing, where he is attending a joint meeting of the
Association of

National Olympic Committees and the IOC's executive board.

In a measure if the rising sensitivities, Rogge stressed athletes would
not be allowed to engage in propaganda at the Beijing Games, but
insisted they

would have free speech.

"For us freedom of expression is something that is absolute, it is a
human right, athletes have it," he said.

But he said athletes would have to comply with "small" restrictions
contained in the Olympic Charter, the rule book of the Olympic Games,
which bans

religious, political or racial propaganda from Olympic venues.

World leaders have faced mounting calls from rights groups to boycott
the opening ceremony in Beijing in protest against China's crackdown on

Tibet, which it has ruled since 1950.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is among those heeding the boycott, and
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's office said he would also not be

attending, although it stressed his plans had not changed.

"He's never been going to the Olympic opening ceremony. We have always
said he's going to the closing ceremony," a spokeswoman for his office

said.

The White House refused again to say whether President George W Bush
would attend, saying it was "extremely premature" to say what his schedule

would be for August.

Bush himself vowed in an interview to press China on human rights at the
Beijing Olympics but chafed at calls for a boycott.

"Nobody needs to tell old George Bush that he needs to bring religious
freedom to the doorstep of the Chinese, because I've done that now for -
I'm

on my eighth year doing it," he told EWTN television, a Catholic network.

"I've talked about freedom of religion every time I visited with them.
I've talked about Darfur. I've talked about Burma. I've talked about the
Dalai

Lama. I don't need the Olympics to express my position."

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has not said if he will attend, but
used a speech in Beijing to deliver a blunt message that there are
"significant"

human rights issues in Tibet.

Despite the ongoing protests, Rogge again stressed there were no plans
to cut short the Beijing torch relay.

"This scenario is definitely not on the agenda," he said.
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