08/06/2008, 00.00
CHINA
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"Free Tibet" banner raised in Beijing: four foreign tourists arrested

Meanwhile, the torch winds through Beijing, but the authorities "recommend" watching this on television at home, "in order to avoid problems" in a city where freedom is on a constant decline. Human rights activist Xie Changfa has been in prison since August 2. The smog remains, while a storm approaches Hong Kong.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Four tourists have been arrested for hanging a banner between two lampposts. It read "One World, One Dream: Free Tibet", and "Free Tibet" in Chinese. Meanwhile, while the torch passes through the city, the residents of Beijing are asked to "watch it on television".

The four tourists (it is not clear whether they are all British or whether any are from the United States) moved into action at dawn, before six o'clock, at the Beicheng bridge not far from the Bird's Nest stadium. They were able to skirt the police, who took 12 minutes to intervene, and in the meantime many were able to photograph the protest. In a statement, Students for a Free Tibet said it was intended to remember the repression taking place in Tibet.

Meanwhile, Chinese Human Rights Defenders says that on August 2, Xie Changfa, from Changsa (Hunan), was arrested for "instigating subversion against the state". He is a member of the China Democracy Party, like Wang Rongqing, who was arrested a few days earlier.

Tight controls are in place in Beijing precisely in order to avoid such protests, although the official explanation is that they are for the prevention of terrorism. Nonetheless, there is a celebration in the capital today for the passing of the torch, which will continue through the city for three days: today, 433 torchbearers carried it for about 16 kilometers, between two uninterrupted police cordons, in a celebration without precedent for the city or for China as a global power. It was carried by artistic and sports figures, but also by Liu Chuanzhi, head of Lenovo Group, by Winfried Vahland, head of Volkswagen China, and by Song Taishan, manager of Coca-Cola Beijing, all leading sponsors of the Games. But there was no celebration for the Chinese people, whom the organizers insistently recommended should "stay at home and watch the torch on TV, if you do not want to run the risk of being involved in unpleasant problems". On the internet, many are complaining about excessive restrictions: public places must close at two in the afternoon (a rule previously in effect, but not enforced), "in order to avoid polluting the air", even restaurants that cook barbecue have been closed, and even the hospitals have been told to accept only urgent cases. There has also been criticism of the great expense to decorate the streets and squares with floral arrangements.

Who knows whether this is what Chinese president Hu Jintao meant when, speaking to the International Olympic Committee on August 4, he expressed the "hope that through the Games, we can show the world the sincere aspiration of the Chinese people to share the benefits of development and to join the rest of the world in building a bright future".

But today the air of Beijing is not bright, and is instead dense with smog amid temperatures of 34 degrees centigrade and high humidity. But this is spoken of less and less, after the international Olympic Committee called it "good enough" for competitions held indoors, and for outdoor competitions that last less than one hour. Li Jianguo, Deputy director of the Beijing communications office, explains that for now, "we haven't been told to implement any additional measures", although there was talk of this earlier.

Meanwhile, four cyclists for team USA came off their airplane wearing respiratory masks, apologizing but saying that they were afraid of the pollution. One third of the team, or about 200 athletes, brought similar masks with them. But the greater concern is the tropical hurricane approaching Hong Kong, which could force the equestrian competitions, scheduled to begin on August 9, to be postponed.

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