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IOC investigates anti-Dalai Lama torch relay speech
Reuters[Wednesday, June 25, 2008 14:46]
By Nick Mulvenney

BEIJING, June 25 - The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is investigating a speech made by Tibet's Communist Party boss at the end of last weekend's Beijing torch relay leg in Lhasa in which he denounced the Dalai Lama.

But it was not immediately clear what the IOC, which is largely powerless and has vigorously defended its policy of non-involvement in politics, could do. It has said before it has "no political mandate" to instruct countries how to behave.

IOC communications director Giselle Davies said Beijing organisers (BOCOG) had been asked to provide the contents of Zhang Qingli's speech and said it "would regret very much" if media reports were accurate.

Hardliner Zhang made the comments at a ceremony marking the end of Saturday's two-hour parade of the Olympic flame through the streets of Lhasa, the scene of anti-Chinese riots in March.

"Tibet's sky will never change and the red flag with five stars will forever flutter high above it ... we will certainly be able to totally smash the splittist schemes of the Dalai Lama clique," he said in front of the Potala, the traditional seat of the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism.

Beijing blamed Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and his followers for the March 14 riots in Lhasa and accused him of scheming to split the Himalayan region from China.

China often rails against the Dalai Lama, but not at Olympic-related events. It has often denounced critics for politicising the Games and the Olympic charter states that no kind of demonstration or political propaganda is permitted "in any Olympic sites or other areas".

The Dalai Lama denied being behind the riots, said he just wanted autonomy and religious freedom in Tibetan areas of the country and has called on his followers to support the Beijing Olympics as well as the torch relay.

The transcript of Zhang's speech on the website of the Tibet Information Office website (info.tibet.cn) omitted the line about the Dalai Lama.

Lhasa's Communist Party boss, Qin Yizhi, also denounced the Dalai Lama at the opening ceremony of the Lhasa leg of the relay on Saturday, saying it would "smash the scheming of the Dalai clique".

Tibet has cast a long shadow over the torch relay, which China hoped would project the image of a modern and vibrant country ahead of the Games.

But the March riots became a focus of anti-Chinese protests and counter-demonstrations on relay legs in London, Paris and San Francisco, prompting ugly scenes which alarmed the IOC.

The Vancouver Sun reported on Wednesday that the international leg of the Beijing Paralympic torch relay, scheduled to take in London, Vancouver and Sochi, had been cancelled.

A BOCOG spokesman did not confirm the cancellation but a news conference has been called for 0700 GMT on the "Scale Reduction of Beijing 2008 Paralympic Torch Relay".

(Additional reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Nick Macfie)
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