08/29/2008, 00.00
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Paralympics, another missed opportunity for China on human rights

The proposal to keep the Olympic flame lit until the end of the games for the disabled has gone unheeded. This would have been "a strong sign" to the international community, which often forgets the daily difficulties faced by people with handicaps.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - The Paralympics represent "the ideal opportunity" for China and its people to improve "awareness and understanding" toward the disabled, even if the "ignorance" surrounding the world of the handicapped is still today "a source of misunderstanding". This was the hope expressed by Li Caimao, director of the government committee for the disabled, on the occasion of the lighting of the Olympic torch for the Games for the disabled, scheduled for September 6-17 in Beijing. It is a hope that seems destined to remain just that, just as for the hopes of "openness" connected to the Olympic Games.

Meanwhile, yesterday, at the Temple of Heaven, in the presence of Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao, the torch relay began that will pass through the streets of the city until the inauguration of the games. 850 people with various disabilities will carry the torch. Also at the ceremony was Deng Pufang, son of former leader Deng Xiaoping and president of the Chinese federation for persons affected by disabilities. During the tumultuous period of the Cultural Revolution, he was thrown from a window and was paralyzed.

The Paralympics could have been, therefore, a chance to show the world how concerned China is about people with physical or psychological problems, but in this case as well, this hope has remained nothing more than hope, as the head of an NGO for the disabled in Beijing tells AsiaNews: "We proposed simulating the extinguishing of the Olympic flame", the source in China recounts, "in order to then keep it lit until the end of the Paralympics, as a sign of continuity between the two events". At first, the idea met with a favorable response from some government officials, but in the end "nothing was done".

"Keeping the flame lit", emphasizes the activist who has worked with the disabled in the country for years, "would have represented a strong signal to the international community. It would have testified to the attention and care with which China accompanies persons affected by handicaps, bringing prominence and interest to the sporting event dedicated to them". In spite of criticism on matters of "human rights and individual freedoms", such a gesture would have demonstrated China's greater attention to the "rights of each individual", including the disabled, who are often marginalized in the rich, developed Western societies. "Unfortunately, even here", the activist complains, "there is still much work to be done".

The activist confirms, finally, the "scarce interest" in the Paralympics, with commercials and news coverage "practically nonexistent in the media", while "the level of vigilance has not been lowered", and there has been no "greater freedom of movement or expression". "In reality, the Olympic event", the activist concludes, "was only a pretext to show China's power to the world; the only thing that mattered was that everything went smoothly, and there were no incidents".

From September 6-17, Beijing will host the Paralympics, which will see the participation of about 4,000 athletes from all over the world. There are 83 million disabled in China, about 6% of the population, one million of whom live in the capital. About 200,000 disabled were involved in organizing the Paralympics, or will carry out some form of service in relation to the sporting event, with additional help from 12,000 volunteers. (DS)

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