Protests aplenty ahead of Olympics
AP[Wednesday, August 08, 2007 13:44]

Beijing: The Olympic Games are a year away, but protests have already begun from groups who want the event to change China.

Small demonstrations this week - as hundreds of Olympic officials meet to mark today's lavish one-year-away anniversary in Tiananmen Square - could give Beijing organisers a taste of what's to come.

Journalists are pushing for more press freedom, China's human rights record is under scrutiny and Tibet activists are demanding independence for the Himalayan region.

The weather is also atrocious. International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge has been greeted not with the blue skies Beijing organisers had hoped for, but instead a thick blanket of smog and humidity that has hovered over the city for weeks.

Such dismal air quality could threaten the performance and health of thousands of elite athletes, and some are already saying they will stay away until the last minute because of pollution concerns.

Chinese officials promised foreign reporters free movement seven months ago, but the temporary freedoms do not extend to local journalists.

Yesterday, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) urged Beijing to free 29 imprisoned journalists and loosen the restrictions on local reporters. It also called on the IOC to pressure China to increase press freedoms.

"With the exception of some small window-dressing of easing restrictions on foreign reporters, those problems (of press restrictions) have not been dealt with yet," said Bob Dietz, the CPJ's Asia programme director.

"There's a major responsibility for the IOC to speak out and to encourage the government of China to live up to its commitments," said Wall Street Journal editor at large and CPJ board chairperson Paul Steiger.

The IOC said it was not surprised by the demands and welcomed a debate, although it said the Games could only be a "catalyst for constructive dialogue" and that the IOC remained focused on sports.

On Monday, police detained journalists at a rare protest in Beijing. Protesters unfurled posters outside the Olympics planning committee office, depicting the Olympic rings as handcuffs.