03/31/2008, 00.00
CHINA

The torch "of peace" sets out, with Beijing up in arms

From the Chinese capital, the flame of the Olympic torch will travel to 20 countries, for a total of 137 thousand kilometres. The government is drawing up a list of its six most dangerous enemies, and is preparing to fight them. A United States activist warns: the leadership is ready to sacrifice the Olympics in order to maintain national security.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - The torch "of peace and harmony", the symbol of the Chinese Olympics, is preparing for an armoured voyage worthy of a nuclear warhead.  The communist government, according to anonymous sources, is concerned about the possibility of anti-Chinese demonstrations in the various cities involved in the tour (the longest in history), and is ready to fight to avoid these.  In the meantime, a leading expert on Chinese society warns: "Beijing is ready to do anything to safeguard its national security, even if this draws the condemnation of the world upon it".

According toward Hong Kong newspaper, the BOCOG (Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympics) security department has drawn up a list of six organisations or ethnic groups that represent a threat to the torch's journey, which begins tomorrow and will cross 20 nations, for a total of 137 thousand kilometres.  A source inside the department explains: "These groups have very strong ties to the nations involved, and they are ready to do anything to disrupt the peaceful unfolding of the itinerary".

The most "dangerous" are: the members of Falun Gong, a spiritual group with about 100 million adherents (according to the group's own estimate), which China considers demonic and persecutes ferociously; the Tibetans; the supporters of Darfur; and those who support the Burmese monks against the military junta of Yangon, which is very close to the Chinese leadership.  The destinations most at  risk include the United States city of San Francisco, where the Olympic flame will arrive on April 9.

The demonstrators who have gathered for this event are motivated by so many factors that they are considering the possibility of dressing in different colours according to the groups to which they belong, in order to guarantee that their own message reaches its destination.  To stop them, the members of the security department - which includes policeman, secret service agents, and military personnel - have prepared foot patrols, interventions, and operations of "preventive dissuasion".

But all of this does not imply that China wants to give an inch with regard to national security. John Kamm, executive director of the Dui Hua Foundation in the United States, has been working for years with the communist authorities in order to reach compromises on the situation of political detainees in the Chinese prisons.  On this question, he says China "will sacrifice the Olympics to preserve national security. The government is adopting a hard position on Tibet. A senior official told me that any signs of concession would be seen as signs of weakness".

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