07/26/2008, 00.00
CHINA
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Two weeks before the games, the Olympic "nightmare" continues for China

Scuffles among the exasperated crowd in line for tickets, and security forces and policemen beating journalists who try to record the scene. In spite of government proclamations, the situation is becoming increasingly chaotic, and repression of the media is on the rise.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Battles over tickets, scuffles between journalists and security forces, a crackdown on freedom of the press, and as if this were not enough, a Beijing newspaper that publishes "by mistake" a photo of the violence in Tiananmen Square, taken on the tragic night of June 4, 1989. The "Olympic nightmare" continues for the organizers of the Beijing games and the Chinese government, which, in spite of all of its superficial declarations, must face new problems and allegations each day.

Yesterday, almost 50,000 people waited in line for hours, beneath the sun and in the heat of the Beijing summer, in an attempt to snatch up one of the 250,000 tickets still available for the Olympic competitions, including athletics, diving - a specialty in which the local athletes excel - and gymnastics. The struggle and the nervousness caused protest demonstrations and clashes. The most "clever" tried to cut to the front of the line, causing violent reactions from the crowd, which were forcibly suppressed by police officers.

Security forces also attacked the groups of journalists present: reporters from Hong Kong were targeted in particular, and at the end of the day they denounced the arrests and violence. According to the South China Morning Post, a newspaper based in Hong Kong, a group of journalists was forcibly removed from the area set up for the media near the main Olympic ticket office. Felix Wang, a photographer for the SCMP, was arrested and detained for several hours, under the accusation of beating a policeman while he was trying to document the clashes between the crowd and the officers. He was released early yesterday afternoon; the directors of the newspaper call it "an unfortunate episode", and are showing "solidarity with the wounded policeman". Law Fai-cheung, a Hong Kong cable TV reporter, says that he was "grabbed by the neck and shoved" by the officers, who also destroyed his cameras. Other journalists denounce "violence and abuse" on the part of the authorities.

Despite the flashy display of freedom in view of the games, the repression continues on the part of the government, to which has been added preoccupation over the phenomenon of "ticket scalping and counterfeiting". According to official sources, more than 60 people have been arrested over the past two months for selling tickets on the black market at astronomical prices. More than 6.8 million tickets have been made available for the competitions, of which 75% have been set aside for domestic sale, while the remaining 25% have been distributed to the various Olympic committees of the participating countries.

One Beijing newspaper - the Beijing News - is being hit with censorship and probable sanctions, for publishing on Thursday, July 24 "by mistake or ignorance" a photo related to the massacre in Tiananmen Square in June of 1989, a topic that is still taboo in China. The image, entitled "the wounded", accompanied a story in the newspaper that made no reference to the student demonstration. The most probable hypothesis is that the photo was published "by mistake" by a young editor, who knows nothing about what happened 20 years ago because it is prohibited to speak about it in the universities and the media. Action could be taken against the director of the paper - which has over time gained the reputation of "relative independence" with respect to the official sources - although the paper did go to the newsstands yesterday in spite of "the incident". In other respects, Chinese censorship has quickly brought down he ax: all of the copies of the edition were confiscated on Thursday, and the offending image was removed from the internet, although it had already begun to appear on the country's blogs and websites.

Finally, the threat of violence on the part of Muslim fundamentalists is weighing over the Olympics: in a video released on the web, fundamentalist militants have claimed responsibility for a series of attacks carried out in recent months in the country, and threatened to strike again with "tactics never used before" during the games. The leader of the Islamic party of Turkestan - an Uygur Muslim group fighting for the independence of Xinjiang, in the west of the country - announces that "sensitive targets connected to the Olympics" will be hit.

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