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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?"

Hu appeals to keep politics out of Games

August 5, 2008

by Peter Harmsen
AFP
August 1, 2008

BEIJING (AFP) -- Chinese President Hu Jintao appealed Friday to keep
politics out of the Olympics, trying to deflect international
criticism one week before an event that has put the spotlight on
Beijing's behaviour at home and abroad.

The run-up to the Olympics, which Beijing hopes will be a showcase
for its rising global power, has been marred by a series of
controversies -- the latest when China backtracked on Internet
freedoms for the visiting foreign press.

Some banned websites were unblocked on Friday after the uproar, but
Hu said it was against the Olympic spirit to bring political issues
into the Games, and that throwing such issues in the face of Beijing
served no purpose now.

"It's only inevitable that people from different countries and
regions of the world don't see eye-to-eye on certain issues," Hu said
in an interview with foreign media that was largely scripted in advance.

"I don't think politicising the Olympic Games will do any good to
address these issues," he said. "It runs counter to the Olympic
spirit and also to the shared aspirations of the people of the world."

With 20,000 journalists arriving for the Olympics, the Communist
Party leadership is facing unprecedented scrutiny from up close --
and China has tried to keep the focus on sport instead of politics
and human rights.

 From the March crackdown in Tibet to the protests that greeted the
Olympic torch relay to China's cozy relationship with the Sudan
regime blamed for the tragedy of Darfur, however, politics has
repeatedly intervened.

Critics have accused Beijing of reaping the prestige of hosting the
Games but not living up to promises it made to win them, including
improvements in its record on human rights.

The latest controversy flared this week when foreign press at the
Olympic media centre found they could not access a wide range of
Internet sites, which led to a new round of criticism of Beijing from
around the globe.

The move was an embarrassment for the International Olympic
Committee, which also emerged red-faced when the worldwide torch
relay had to be cut short because of angry protests -- including at
the first lighting of the flame.

IOC president Jacques Rogge last month promised that the foreign
media would have unfettered access to the Internet.

On Friday, the previously barred websites of rights group Amnesty
International, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders and German
broadcaster Deutsche Welle were accessible.

"It's a good thing," said IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies.

But many other sites were still blocked, including those linked to
Chinese dissidents, the outlawed Falungong spiritual movement, the
Tibetan government-in-exile and sites with information on the 1989
Tiananmen massacre.

The lifting of Internet curbs appeared to go beyond Olympic venues,
with AFP reporters able to consult those normally banned sites from
an ordinary Chinese Internet portal.

"As always we will continue to provide facilities for foreign
journalists coming to China to report," Hu said, without commenting
on the changes.

"Of course, we also hope the foreign reporters will abide by Chinese
laws and regulations," he said. "We also hope you will provide
objective reports of what you see here."

China and the United States have sparred this week over the Internet
censorship issue and human rights, with Beijing strongly criticising
a meeting US President George W. Bush has with leading Chinese dissidents.

The White House hit back on Friday, saying it was more concerned with
seeing progress from Beijing on human rights than with its complaints
about the meeting.

"We are less concerned with their public comments than we are with
actions on the ground in China," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino
told reporters at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport.

"We would like to see an improvement in human rights, freedom and
democracy in their country and they know where the president stands."
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