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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?"

Empire State Building lit for China, drawing ire

October 2, 2009

By MARCUS FRANKLIN (AP) - September 30, 2009

NEW YORK - Red and yellow lights shone from the top of the Empire State
Building at dusk Wednesday, a tribute to communist China's 60th anniversary
that protesters labeled "blatant approval" of totalitarianism and criticized
as inappropriate for an icon in the land of the free.

The building is routinely lit with different colors to mark holidays and big
events, but opponents questioned whether it's right to commemorate a
sensitive political issue, particularly when China has such a poor human
rights record.

About 20 supporters of Tibet, which China has ruled since shortly after
communists took over in 1949, protested outside the building during a
ceremonial lighting of a scale model inside the lobby. They chanted "No to
China's empire; free Tibet now," and held signs reading, "Empire State
Building celebrating 60 years of China's oppression."

Lhadon Tethong, executive director of Students for a Free Tibet, called the
lighting "outright, blatant approval for a communist totalitarian system."

"It's a great public relations coup for the Chinese state," Tethong said as
tourists gawked at the protesters. "But on the other hand, it's sure to
backfire because the American public and the global public will speak
against it."

At the lobby ceremony, building manager Joseph Bellina called the lights a
high honor and said he was proud of the relationship between "our countries
and our people."

Chinese Consul General Peng Keyu, who pulled the switch on the glass-encased
model, said he was "honored and delighted."

He said China's reforms of the past 30 years have led to greater openness
and "tremendous change."

Keyu and Bellina didn't address critics and declined to answer questions.

Journalist and blogger Marc Masferrer questioned legitimizing a government
that continues to repress its citizens' freedoms, including their access to
media and the Internet.

"I don't think one of our great landmarks should be turned into a platform
to honor a regime and a system responsible for as much tragedy and all the
other things that come with a repressive system," he told The Associated
Press.

Masferrer pointed out that this year is also the 20th anniversary of the
violently crushed student-led movement in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. The
People's Liberation Army is believed to have killed hundreds, possibly
thousands, of protesters.

Politicians united in their disdain.

Rep. Anthony Weiner, a New York Democrat, said the lights should not be used
to pay tribute to what he called "an oppressive regime" with a "shameful
history on human rights."

Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican, said it was "a sad day for New
York."

"I am strongly opposed to it or any commemoration of the Communist Chinese
revolution. It's one thing to acknowledge the government; it's totally
immoral to honor it."

The lights atop the building, which is owned by W&H Properties, are often
are changed. For example, Italian colors - red, white and green -
commemorate Columbus Day, while green, white and orange are displayed for
the India Day parade.

For the Chinese anniversary, the lights were to remain on through early
Thursday.

Associated Press writer Deepti Hajela contributed to this report.
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