Ceremony Overshadowed by Tibet Unrest Tibet Activists Disrupt Olympic Torch Ceremony

Pro-Tibet activists disrupted the Olympic torch-lighting ceremony in the Greek city of Olympia on Monday. The torch was lit but the protest was a reminder of how the unrest in Tibet is overshadowing the 2008 Beijing Olympics.


A pro-Tibet demonstrator was arrested during the Olympic flame lighting ceremony at the site of ancient Olympia in Greece.
REUTERS

A pro-Tibet demonstrator was arrested during the Olympic flame lighting ceremony at the site of ancient Olympia in Greece.

The 2008 Olympic torch-lighting ceremony in Olympia, Greece on Monday was interrupted by pro-Tibet demonstrators. One of them, unfurling a banner, managed to approach Beijing Games chief Liu Qi during his speech in front of hundreds of officials, but was taken away before he could reach him.

Greek state television NET immediately swung its camera away from the incident. Police said the demonstrator was a 48-year-old Tibetan and that three men had so far been detained. An additional 25 protesters had attempted to break through the cordon but a strong police presence kept them at bay.

Liu went on reading his speech while police struggled with the demonstrator behind him. "The Olympic flame will radiate light and happiness, peace and friendship, and hope and dreams to the people of China and the whole world," he said.

The demonstrator's banner read: "Boycott the country that tramples on human rights" below a picture of Olympic rings in flames.

Some 1,000 Greek police had been on standby to protect the ceremony which marked the start of a round-the-world relay that will take the flame to the Beijing Olympics in August.

Meanwhile the German Olympic Sports Federation (DOSB) said it would not boycott the Olympic Games in Beijing this August despite the violence in Tibet.

"The DOSB is aware that the human rights situation in China is still not satisfactory despite appreciable improvements in recent years," the federation said in a statement issued on Monday.

But it added that sport was meant to promote dialogue. "Its task is to build bridges, not to erect walls," the statement said. "That's why sport is not a suitable tool for exerting political pressure."

Mount Everest Bid

The Olympic torch will be carried through Greece to Athens this week and will be flown to Beijing where it is due to arrive on March 31.

It will then pass through 20 countries in a relay that will take it to major cities including St. Petersburg, London, San Francisco and Delhi.

China said the flame will also be carried through Tibet despite the violent unrest there. When the flame arrives in Beijing on March 31, before embarking on its journey around the world, a second torch will be lit and taken to Tibet for an attempt to take it to the top of Mount Everest, at 8,848 metres (29,030 feet) above sea level, on a day in May when the weather looks best.

A human rights activist opens a banner protesting the human rights situation in China and Tibet during the flame lighting ceremony in Greece.
DPA

A human rights activist opens a banner protesting the human rights situation in China and Tibet during the flame lighting ceremony in Greece.

But the anti-government turmoil that has shaken Tibet threatens to mar the torch's journey to the world's highest peak. A Tibet sports official told the state-run Tibet daily on Monday that the Everest climb was certain to go ahead under strict security. The official said candidates to carry the torch through Tibet have been chosen, and the route and schedule have been set.

Beijing has been stepping up its drive to rally support for the Games in the face of international attention on Tibet and has blamed the unrest on the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhism's spiritual leader.

"The political monk's statement of supporting the Beijing Olympic Games has been proven a lie; his followers boycotted the torch relay and resorted to violence in Lhasa and elsewhere," the official Xinhua news agency said of the Dalai Lama. "But their plot to sabotage the Beijing event is doomed to fail," it said.

China alleges the Dalai Lama conspired to wreck the country's Olympics and masterminded the wave of protests that began with peaceful rallies in Tibet's capital Lhasa on March 10, the 49th anniversary of a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

Violence has erupted since then and anti-government demonstrations have flared throughout ethnic Tibetan parts of China. Tibetan groups say as many as 100 have died in the unrest. However, the Chinese government has barred foreign journalists from the area, making independent verification of the reports difficult.

The Dalai Lama rejects China's claim that he is behind the protests and says he does not oppose Beijing's Games.

IOC Chief Defends Awarding Olympics to Beijing

Meanwhile the head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Jacques Rogge, defended the decision to award the 2008 Olympics to Beijing despite the mounting criticism of its human rights record.

"This will have a good effect for the evolution of China," Rogge told Reuters in an interview on Monday. "We believe that the Games are a great catalyst for change."

"I have no message to give to China for what the sovereignty of China is concerned," Rogge said. "But the Games cannot be held in an atmosphere of violence. We are concerned about what is happening in Tibet."

cro/Reuters/AP

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