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Protesters want applause withheld

8/29/2004

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.