Bar owners say security sweep chokes Beijing Games

BEIJING Fri Jul 18, 2008 6:49am EDT

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BEIJING (Reuters) - Heavy-handed security measures to ensure the Beijing Olympics pass without incident are threatening to choke the cultural life from the city and leave Games tourists cold, Beijing bar and club owners said on Friday.

Staff at several night spots near Beijing's Workers Stadium, venue for Olympic soccer qualifiers, were clearing out their bars on Friday after police ordered shut-downs three days before a mandated deadline.

"I didn't like the way they went about closing everybody, it would have been better if they had stuck to the date they told us," a manager at one of the venues told Reuters.

"I don't think we'll get any compensation. There's no point asking for it, you just hope that they'll offer some," said the manager, who requested anonymity.

Beijing, which has declared terrorism to be the greatest threat to the Games, has also come down hard on local entertainment venues, demanding that owners attend anti-drug seminars and conduct searches of patrons.

One bar owner in Sanlitun, Beijing's main entertainment district, said the constant police checks and shut-down threats bordered on harassment, and tighter visa approval procedures have kept tourists away hurting business badly.

"There's not exactly a big Olympic vibe going on now, I can tell you ... We're about 50-70 percent down in business. We're more dead now than we would be on a cold week night in winter," the bar owner said.

In addition to demanding bars close by 2 a.m., police have also started conducting heavy-handed raids, checking patrons' identities and fining bars heavily for hiring entertainers not directly employed by their companies.

"The police are coming round more and more. They are becoming more demanding ... We now have to put up signs all over our bar to say that drugs are not allowed, and no fighting," said Ed Schmidt, manager at local night club Obi Wan.

ENTERTAINERS BLOCKED

The difficulty of arranging temporary work permits has seen organizers and promoters in other Chinese cities simply stop trying to book acts during the Olympic period.

"I've stopped trying to bring in foreign acts and won't try again until after the Olympics," said a Shanghai-based music promoter. "It's just too much hassle."

China on Thursday said it would ban all entertainers from overseas, Hong Kong and Taiwan who had ever attended activities that "threaten national sovereignty", and demanded that encores be approved in advance.

The directive follows Beijing cancelling pop festivals and tightening approval for outdoor rock events.

A Hong Kong newspaper on Friday quoted unnamed sources as saying that police were demanding bar owners sign "secret" pledges not to serve black people or Mongolian prostitutes.

Beijing police earlier this year carried out a drugs sweep in a popular bar district in Sanlitun, which saw black people bundled indiscriminately into police vans, witnesses said.

A bar owner in Sanlitun's embassy district said the crackdown threatened to leave tourists with the impression of Beijing as a boring, culturally dead and uptight city when the opposite was true.

"The sad thing is that all these tourists are going to be wearing rose-colored glasses when they see Beijing. They don't just want to watch sport. They want to experience the city as well," he said.

(Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

(For more stories visit our multimedia website "Road to Beijing" here; and see our blog at blogs.reuters.com/china)

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