Protesters want applause withheld

Updated: August 29, 2004, 7:24 AM ET
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- Activists hope to use the Olympics' closing ceremony as a way to send the world a message about human rights abuses in China, the next host of the Summer Games.

At the closing, Chinese organizers will stage an eight-minute ceremony and receive the Olympic flag. Protesters are asking spectators to withhold applause during that ceremony to bring the alleged problems in China into focus.

"Lots of people are still suffering under the current situation. We came to Athens to launch our campaign to say to the world that the decision to have the games in China must be rethought," said Wangpo Tethong, spokesman of the International Tibet Support Network.

It's hard to know if protesters will persuade nearly 75,000 people attending the big celebration to refrain from clapping. But they certainly hope at least to draw attention to the human-rights issues in China.

Wang Wei, secretary-general of the Chinese organizing committee, acknowledged that not everything is ideal in his country.

"Of course we have strong points and we have weaknesses. The weaknesses have to be improved. That is normal," he said.

Earlier this week, pro-Tibet campaigners unfurled a large banner under the ancient Acropolis showing five bullet holes in place of the Olympic rings.

"The bullet holes represent what is really going on in China where lots of people are suffering," Tethong said.

China says Tibet has been part of its territory for at least seven centuries, but many Tibetans say they were an independent nation for most of that time. Groups like Amnesty International have accused China, which invaded Tibet in 1951, of widespread human-rights abuses, while the U.S. State Department accuses Chinese authorities in Tibet of carrying out executions without due process and engaging in torture and arbitrary arrest.

Hara Kalomiri of the Greek Tibetan Friendship Association said activists hope the International Olympic Committee will pressure China into improving its human rights record over the next four years.

"The IOC, as an international institution with such reach that it has, could influence China," she said.

Tethong accused the IOC of ignoring the situation.

But IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies countered that "the International Olympic Committee is neither a commercial nor a political organization, but one which is focused on sport. The Olympic Charter refers to the practice of sport as a human right."

Tethong noted his group was also appealing to the Chinese leadership. "We want to send the message that it's wrong to believe that you can invite the whole world to Beijing and leave the values of the world outside," he said.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press