BEIJING (Reuters) - President Hu Jintao said China would stand by pledges made when it was awarded the Olympics as Games officials deflected fire over Internet censorship on Friday by lifting restrictions.
Hu told reporters the Games, one week away, would have an enduring benefit for China and leave a positive “spiritual legacy”.
“The Chinese government and the Chinese people have been working in real earnest to honor the commitments made to the international community,” the normally media-shy Hu, who doubles as Communist Party chief, said.
China and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are under fire from critics who say neither has lived up to pledges the country made to improve its rights record and lift Internet censorship for the Olympics.
IOC press chief Kevan Gosper said this week that some IOC officials cut a deal to let China block sensitive websites to the media, despite repeated promises of a free Internet. On Friday officials said there would be unrestricted access.
“The issue has been solved,” IOC vice-president Gunilla Lindberg told Reuters.
“The IOC Coordination Commission and BOCOG met last night and agreed,” she said, referring to Beijing’s Olympic organizers. “Internet use will be just like in any Olympics.”
‘EYE TO EYE’
The issue of Internet censorship was only the latest of a series of issues, from human rights, to reporting restrictions, to China’s policies in Darfur and Tibet, that have prompted criticism of its Communist leadership.
Although Internet access will be free for reporters for the period of the Games, it is still tightly controlled for the rest of the country.
Hu made a plea for the Games not to be politicized. Many had hoped the Olympics would lead the country of 1.3 billion on a path toward greater political reform to match years of breakneck growth that has made it the world’s fourth-largest economy.
“I don’t think that politicizing the Olympic Games will do anything good to addressing any of the issues,” Hu said.
“It is only inevitable for people from different countries and regions may not see eye to eye with one another on some different issues,” he said.
But critics said China itself was to blame for any politicization of the Games.
“The IOC and the Chinese government I think are the ones to be held accountable here ... I think the blame related for anything related to the politicization of the Olympics really falls on their shoulders,” Lhadon Tethong, executive director of Students for Free Tibet told a teleconference on Friday.
Advocacy group Dream for Darfur added to the political pressure on Beijing by calling on China in an open letter on Friday to use its sway with Sudan’s leadership to stop the violence in the troubled Western region of Darfur.
Filmmaker Steven Spielberg embarrassed Beijing earlier this year by withdrawing as an artistic adviser to the Olympics over China’s policies in Sudan, where China sells arms and is a major oil industry investor.
Beijing sought to reassure that it was ready for any threat, saying tens of thousands of troops had been drafted into Olympic security efforts that include everything from surveillance cameras and surface-to-air missile launchers.
“All in all, China’s security forces are confident and capable of securing the Olympic Games,” Tian Yixiang, of the Beijing Olympic Security Command Centre, told a news conference.
Hu said that as early as 1908 some Chinese were saying their country should host the Olympics and when the Games open on August 8 it would be the fulfillment of a 100-year dream.
He also defended the cost of the endeavor -- expected to be well over $2 billion -- which has led to the building of a new airport terminal, several subways lines and state-of the-art facilities. “The investment is worth it,” he said.
Doping, the scourge of sport, has hit two of the most successful Olympic nations, Russia and Italy. Italy’s Andrea Baldini, the world number one in the men’s foil, tested positive for a medication used in hospitals in cases of cardiac arrest.
It is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) because it can be used as a masking agent for other drugs.
“I‘m disconcerted, sad and it’s an ugly thing for the world of fencing,” Italian Fencing Federation president Giorgio Scarso said.
In Russia, newspapers said the banning of seven of their leading female athletes appeared to be a foreign plot to deprive the Russian team of at least five golds in Beijing.
The athletes were charged with fraudulently substituting urine during the doping control process. Russian media alleged the athletes’ samples had been manipulated by a western company.
“I call what is happening now a provocation staged deliberately to knock out the potential medalists right before the Olympics,” Kommersant business daily quoted world indoor 1,500 meters champion Yelena Soboleva as saying.
Writing by Lindsay Beck, additional reporting by Beijing bureau and John Ruwitch in Hong Kong, and Paul Virgo in Rome; Editing by Nick Macfie/Jon Bramley