Olympics: following protests, China "locks down" the borders
Entry visas are harder to obtain, and short-term visas from Hong Kong have been suspended, out of fear of protesters. Experts: this is evidence of weakness. Meanwhile, the Olympic committee will discuss whether to halt the torch's journey, after protests in Paris and London. Demonstrations in San Francisco already underway.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - With the approach of the Olympics and the spread of protests, China is making it more difficult to enter the country.  In Hong Kong, the site of many multinational companies, it has always been possible for foreigners to obtain short-term entry visas, issued at customs checkpoints.  But now these have been suspended "for technical reasons" related to "the new computer system", and, at least until October, everyone must ask for standard entry visas through the embassy or designated offices.  "Multiple" entry visas (valid for more than one visit) have also been abolished.  This is not a problem for tourists, but it is a serious inconvenience for those who have economic interests requiring them to be able to enter China frequently and quickly.

The intention is to block the entry of human rights activists, out of fear of protests during the Games.  But experts comment that China is demonstrating in this way how fearful it is of public protests, and the government is showing its weakness: it does not seem impossible to identify, even at customs, those who want to create problems, but Beijing wants to avoid any sort of protest, no matter how short-lived.

Meanwhile, after the demonstrations in London and Paris at the passing of the torch, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will discuss for three days, beginning tomorrow, whether to cut short the torch's journey. IOC president  Jacques Rogge has said the decision will be announced on April 11.  This is in contradiction of Sun Weide, spokesman of the Olympic organising committee, who, from "faraway" Beijing, had assured journalists that "No force can stop the torch relay of the Beijing Games".

One important stop will be in San Francisco, where the torch passes tomorrow, and where strenuous protests have already been announced.  Yesterday morning, pro-Tibet activists climbed the Golden Gate Bridge - the symbol of the city, over which the torch will pass - and unfurled, 46 metres up in the air (in the photo), the Tibetan flag together with two banners reading "One world.  One dream.  Free Tibet" and "Free Tibet '08". San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom is determined to hold the relay nonetheless, despite a statement from the city's political leaders who greet the torch with "concern and protest".

In Paris, despite the presence of more than 3,000 policeman, the protests forced the torch to stop after just 200 metres.  It was extinguished and put onto a bus.  There were continual interruptions along the 28 kilometres of the torch's journey, with Tibetan flags or protest banners unfurled from many buildings, including the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame cathedral.  Finally, the torch was put onto a bus at Charlety Stadium for the final ceremony.  The scheduled stop at city hall was cancelled, because protest banners "displeasing" to Beijing had been attached to the building.

Also yesterday, Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton asked President George W. Bush to boycott the opening ceremony for the games on August 8, if China does not change its policy on human rights.  In March, shortly before the repression in Tibet, Bush confirmed that he would participate in the ceremony, claiming that the Games are a separate affair.