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    » 08/06/2008, 00.00

    CHINA

    The Olympic torch arrives in Beijing, amid tight security and expropriations

    Wang Zhicheng

    Yang Liwei, the first Chinese astronaut and basketball star Yao Ming are the first to carry the flame. Beijing residents are invited to remain at home to avoid problems. “Great China” is on the world stage. A group of protesters take to Tiananmen Square against the expropriation of their houses.

    Beijing (AsiaNews) – After a wait of months the Olympic flame was lit today in Beijing the main events city of the Games.  Over the next three days it will pass through the streets of the capital but city residents have been invited to remain in their homes to avoid security issues.

    At 8 am this morning, in the historic setting of the Forbidden City, Beijing's Communist Party secretary, Liu Qi, handed over the torch to Chinese astronaut, Yang Liwei, the first national to go into space.  He was followed by another famous Chinese, basketball champion Yao Ming, who took up the torch and crossed the threshold of  Tiananmen Square. Over 841 torch bearers will carry the Olympic flame, each travelling between 100 – 200 metres, along the great city monuments until the lighting of the Olympic flame in the opening ceremony.  Today’s’ route will come to an end in Sky Temple, in a southern district of the city.

    But what characterises the Beijing route is the mass of security barriers.  Torch bearers are surrounded by dozens of guards in white and blue, who became infamously linked to the international leg of the journey after clashes with pro-Tibet activists.  In the early morning a group of activists succeeded in raising a banner demanding freedom for Tibet before they were arrested by police.

    Hours ahead of the ceremony in the Forbidden City, security officers combed the area, set up the barriers and reduced the number of participants.  Curiously, Beijing residents are being invited to stay at home and to follow the route of the Olympic flame on their TV’s to avoid security problems.

    Beyond the omnipresence of armed soldiers on the streets and squares, there are also security checks in subway stations: all bags are subjected to metal-detectors; bridges and galleries are patrolled by “Olympic volunteers”, in short civil guards.  Checks are equally strict for those travelling by bus.   

    Torch bearers who have been interviewed have all expressed their emotions regarding this “great event”. Director of the opening ceremony and one of the first to bear the torch today, Zhang Yimou, spoke of the “meaning” of the Olympics.  No one is talking about its contents.  The slogans being shouted out by groups along the route speak more clearly: “A great Olympics, a great China”; the Games are being seen as a  window of opportunity to soften foreign guests and make them understand how efficient, modern and powerful China has become.  At least 80 international leaders will attend the opening ceremony.  Among them Gorge W. Bush, Nicholas Sarkozy, Emperor Akihito, etc…  Their presence is the first real “Olympic victory” for Beijing, which feared a boycott in the wake of the Tibet repression.

    The possible benefits of the Olympics for the Chinese people and Beijing’s residents have yet to be seen.  Yesterday dozens of city dwellers tried to hold a demonstration in Tiananmen Square against the expropriation of the homes without any compensation.  They were immediately dispersed by police. Together with them a further one and a half million Beijing residents await justice, after their lands and homes were requisitioned to make way for the spectacular Olympic constructions.
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    See also

    01/04/2008 INDIA – CHINA
    The captain of the Indian Soccer team boycotts the Olympic torch
    Bhaichung Bhutia will not carry the Olympic symbol during its passage through India, in protest at the Chinese authority’s use of violence in Tibet. He is the second athlete to send a sign to Beijing.

    14/02/2008 CHINA
    State media claim Chinese “disgusted” by Spielberg’s boycott
    For the Chinese Embassy in Washington, tying China to the Darfur issue is “unreasonable, irresponsible and unfair.” IOC President Jacques Rogge signs Nobel Prize laureates’ appeal in favour of Darfur. Chinese activists call for greater respect for human rights at home.

    30/06/2008 CHINA
    Police arrest 200 protesters in Guizhou revolt
    At least 10 thousand protesters burned 3 government offices and 12 cars. Police cover up of the rape and assassination of a 15 year old girl by son of a local government official behind the protests led by hundreds of students.

    07/04/2008 CHINA – FRANCE – UK
    The torch in Paris amid protests and tight security
    The “journey of harmony” has been transformed into an obstacle course. “Paris like Tiananmen Square”, strictly controlled by security officers and anti-riot police. In London 37 protesters are arrested for protesting against Chinese actions in Darfur and Tibet

    04/08/2008 CHINA
    Xinjiang, sixteen dead in a terrorist attack by Muslim separatists
    This morning two grenades hit a check point on the North West frontier, a majority Muslim area theatre of violence in the past weeks. The news was reported by the state agency Xinhua, but AFP sources fail to confirm the episode.



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