07/25/2008, 00.00
CHINA
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Foreigners banned from watching public protests in Beijing

Public protests require authorisation based on rules so strict they are virtually impossible. Meanwhile air quality in capital does not improve. Authorities might announce a total ban on private cars.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Foreigners and non-resident Chinese will not be allowed to take part in protests by Beijing residents or watch them, even in the unlikely situation that they might be authorised. In the meantime air quality in the capital is getting worse and there is talk of a total ban on private cars.

BOCOG security director Liu Shaowu said on Wednesday that three protest zones would be set up in three Beijing parks far from the Olympic venues.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao yesterday said that protests during the Olympics come under the “Law of the People's Republic of China on Assemblies, Processions and Demonstrations.”

This means that applications must be made to the relevant Public Security Bureau five days in advance and include the name of the person in charge, protest topic, the nature of slogans and posters, the number of megaphones, the route and the timetable.

The police can delay the protest for up to five days—or simply reject the application just two days before the planned start.

Above all, according to the law, it would be illegal for mainland citizens "who do not reside" in Beijing to apply for or to join a demonstration.

Foreigners wishing to protest must apply for permission just to attend a demonstration, the law states.

Last but not least the police can detain demonstrators for up to 15 days if they use different posters and slogans, change the timetable or the topic of the demonstration.

Beijing has justified such restrictions citing section 51 of the International Olympic Committee charter which bars demonstrations or “political, religious or racial propaganda” from all designated venues.

In earlier Games however public demonstrations were allowed.

Even though a ban on 50 per cent of all private cars in the capital has been in place for the past six days, Beijing's composite air pollution index rose to 113.

A reading between 100 and 200 is defined as having the potential to severely affect people with respiratory problems and make breathing difficult for most other people.  In many areas of the capital visibility was down to about 200 metres (see photo).

Environmental officials blamed the problem on the weather.

An extreme plan allowing private cars to be driven only when the last digit of their number plate corresponding with the date could be put in place. It would mean cars could drive only once every ten days.

Finally, Iraq’s seven-person Olympic team will not take part in the Olympics after all since the Iraqi government replaced the country's Olympic committee (accused with corruption and various abuses) with its own appointees. The International Olympic Committee rejected the decision and on Wednesday excluded the country from the Games.

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