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Olympic President Makes Rare Rebuke of China

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THE PROGRESSIVE REVIEW - April 14, 2008
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Olympic President Makes Rare Rebuke of China
By Andrew Jacobs
The New York Times

Beijing - The president of the International Olympic 
Committee, Jacques Rogge, offered a rare rebuke to the 
Chinese government on Thursday, calling on the authorities 
to respect its "moral engagement" to improve human rights 
and to provide the news media with greater access to the 
country ahead of the Beijing Games.
 
Mr. Rogge's comments on China, made at a news conference 
here during which he described the protests that have 
dogged the torch relay as a "crisis" for the organization, 
were a departure from his previous statements that 
strenuously avoided any mention of politics. 

The Chinese government immediately rejected Mr. Rogge's 
remarks, saying they amounted to an unwelcome meddling 
in the country's domestic affairs. "I believe I.O.C. 
officials support the Beijing Olympics and adherence to 
the Olympic charter of not bringing in any irrelevant 
political factors," Jiang Yu, a Foreign Ministry 
spokeswoman, told reporters. 

Despite the crisis, Mr. Rogge insisted that the skirmishes 
in London, Paris and San Francisco would not derail the 
six-continent pageant leading up to the Beijing Games in 
August. 

"There is no scenario of interrupting or bringing the torch 
back to Beijing," he said. 

The chaos that has interrupted the torch relay and rattled 
the International Olympic Committee came as the authorities 
here announced the discovery of what they described as a 
plan by terrorists from the country's restive Xinjiang 
region to disrupt the games by kidnapping foreign 
journalists, athletes and spectators at the Summer Games. 

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The authorities said they arrested 35 people and 
confiscated explosives and detonators belonging to a 
jihadist group based in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, 
in the country's far west, long a source of unrest among 
the region's majority Muslim population. 

In the past, officials have announced the discovery of 
similar plots without providing much evidence, including 
what they said last month was a plan to hijack an airplane. 
Some analysts have suggested that such crackdowns have been 
used as a distraction from internal unrest and a means to 
justify the suppression of separatist Muslim Uighurs. 

Speaking before a two-day meeting of the Olympic 
committee's executive board, Mr. Rogge condemned the 
protesters who had hounded torch bearers, but he also 
called on the Chinese authorities to honor their pledges 
to improve human rights and to give foreign journalists 
unfettered access to all parts of the country. 

"We will do our best to have this be realized," he said 
of a recent Chinese regulation that guarantees reporters 
the right to travel to all parts of the country, including 
Tibet, where access has been restricted since the outbreak 
of violence last month. 

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During the news conference, Mr. Rogge said he met with 
Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China for an hour on 
Wednesday, but he would not reveal details of their 
conversation. Mr. Rogge has long avoided criticizing 
China, saying that pressuring the government on Tibet 
and other human rights issues was likely to backfire. 

"China will close itself off from the rest of the world, 
which, don't forget, it has done for some 2,000 years," 
he said in an interview broadcast Wednesday in his native 
Belgium. 

Olympic committee members have been taken aback by the 
scope and ferocity of the protests, which are marring what 
has traditionally been a festive event involving 20,000 
torch bearers. Although the protests in San Francisco were 
not as violent or disruptive as in London and Paris, the 
torch's sole North American visit was a disappointment to 
thousands of spectators after the relay route was changed 
at the last minute in an effort to avoid the kind of 
tussling between protesters and the police that had 
characterized earlier ceremonies. 

After officials moved the planned closing ceremony at the 
San Francisco waterfront to another location on Wednesday, 
the Olympic flame was taken aboard an airplane bound for 
Argentina, the next stop on its worldwide tour. 

The committee members who gathered at a hotel in central 
Beijing offered harsh words for demonstrators who used the 
relay to publicize issues ranging from Tibetan religious 
freedom to environmental concerns. Gunilla Lindberg, a 
vice president of the committee, likened some of the more 
vociferous protesters to terrorists and said they had 
emboldened committee members to keep the relay going. 

"We will never give into violence," Ms. Lindberg said. 
"These are not the friendly demonstrators for a free Tibet, 
but professional demonstrators, the ones who show up at 
G-8 conferences to be seen and fight." 

Denis Oswald, a committee member from Switzerland, said 
those who thought that interrupting the torch relay, or 
the Games themselves, would push China to improve its human 
rights record were wrongheaded and naïve. He noted that it 
took Europe several centuries to become truly democratic 
and said it was unwise to expect China to do the same in a 
few years. 

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"We have to give them time, and as long as they're moving 
in the right direction we should be patient," he said. He 
added that those who disrupt the relay "do not respect the 
freedom of people who want to enjoy it." 

In announcing the disruption of what they described as 
a pair of terrorist plots, Chinese officials from the 
Ministry of Public Security said they had arrested leaders 
of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, who they said had 
confessed to planning attacks in Beijing, Shanghai and 
other cities. 

The authorities said they had seized 19 explosive devices, 
4 kilograms of explosive material, 7 detonators, and "9 
kinds of raw materials to be used for waging a holy war." 
They said the group was led by Aji Mai Mai Ti, who had 
urged his fellow plotters to use "poisonous meat," 
"poisonous gas" and remote-controlled explosives. Officials 
said they had arrested the group's leaders but that other 
members were still being sought. 

Giselle Davies, a spokeswoman for the International Olympic 
Committee, said that the group was unaware of the plot and 
that it had learned about the arrests only from Chinese 
television. Still, she said the committee had full 
confidence that the police would guarantee security at the 
games. "We trust very much the authorities will handle that 
with the right approach," she said. 

Despite the chaos along the torch relay route, Mr. Rogge 
said he expected the Olympics to proceed without a hitch. 
He cited the murder of 11 Israeli athletes in Munich in 
1972 and boycotts in 1976, 1980 and 1984 as far more 
disruptive and said he hoped the public would soon focus 
on the essence of the Olympics: athletic competition and 
world unity. 

"It is a crisis, there is no doubt about that, but the 
I.O.C. has weathered many bigger storms," he said. 

Asked if he had any regrets about awarding the games to 
Beijing, Mr. Rogge remarked that the country's bid was not 
only the best among nations that had vied for the Olympics 
but that he thought it was especially compelling to have 
them held in a country with a fifth of the world's 
population. "It is very easy with hindsight to criticize 
the decision," he said. "It's easy to say now that this 
was not a wise and sound decision." 

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