April 8, 2008 / 4:48 AM / 11 years ago

China turns patriotic wrath on Olympics demonstrators

(Adds IOC comments, paragraphs 10-12 and 15-16)

By Nick Mulvenney

BEIJING, April 8 (Reuters) - China on Tuesday denounced protesters who upstaged Olympic Games torch relays in London and Paris, with state media saying that saboteurs are bent on wrecking Games goodwill.

International Olympic officials also criticised the protests, but said the relay would stay on its round-the-world course.

Officials in Paris on Monday were forced to hustle the Olympic torch on to a bus when protesters against Chinese policy in Tibet tried to seize it.

In London the day before, activists waving Tibetan flags and shouting "Shame on China" also turned the event into a torrid obstacle course.

China quickly condemned the disruptions as "vile" and, in a departure from past reticence, state-run television and newspapers showed the protests and upset spectators.

"We express our strong condemnation of the deliberate disruption of the Olympic torch relay by 'Tibetan independence' separatist forces," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a statement posted at www.fmprc.gov.cn.

Beijing Olympics spokesman Sun Weide told reporters that the Paris demonstrations were "blasphemy".

The torch relay disruptions follow unrest in Tibet that China has said was the work of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader. He has repeatedly denied China's claims.

Beijing's subsequent security drive in Tibet and nearby areas has galvanised international groups denouncing the crackdown and calling for the mountain region's autonomy or independence.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge demanded protesters respect the Olympic flame as a symbol of unity.

"We say that we respect people that want to protest, this is freedom of speech, freedom of expression," Rogge said in an interview with Chinese media on Tuesday.

"However, if you want to protest, it has to be peaceful, we don't accept violence. We do accept protest, we don't accept violence."

IOC press chief Kevan Gosper said he was "desperately disappointed" by the chaotic scenes in Paris, which could well be repeated in San Francisco, where the torch heads next.

"My belief is the torch relay will stay on course, there may be adjustments to it but I think it would be wrong to do anything other than try and get the torch through to its ultimate destination."

But Gosper believed the IOC should look at scrapping the international leg next time.

"I am a firm believer that we had the right template in the first place, that the torch should go from Olympia, Greece to the host country, and I would expect that the executive committee will review that," he told reporters.

NATIONAL PRIDE

Beijing is seeking to rally public opinion to back government policy and reject criticism of the Beijing Olympics. Many Chinese people feel proud about hosting the Games, and newspapers played on public rancour.

"France didn't protect the sacred flame," said the Global Times, a popular tabloid. "The world has seen the irrational extremism of some in the West, and also seen the incompetence of the Paris police."

The People's Daily, voice of the ruling Communist Party, quoted indignant comments on Web sites. "Don't let foreigners look down on Chinese people!" urged one.

China had hoped the Olympic torch relay would be a symbol of cheerful unity in the run-up to the Games, which open in Beijing on Aug. 8, and it has called the relay a "journey of harmony".

Australian organisers of the torch relay through the capital Canberra said on Tuesday they were looking at route changes to boost security following this week's protests.

An official magazine said officials were bracing for more attempted protests and disruptions from "hostile forces", including Tibet independence supporters, during the Games.

"Domestic and foreign hostile forces have made the Beijing Olympics a focus for infiltration and sabotage," said Outlook Weekly, which is issued by the Xinhua news agency.

U.S. Democratic presidential aspirant Hillary Clinton urged President George W. Bush on Monday to boycott the Beijing Olympics opening ceremonies unless China improves human rights.

Clinton, in a statement, cited the violent clashes in Tibet and China's policies towards Sudan's Darfur region, where critics say it has not done enough to help end widespread strife.

Bush plans to attend the ceremonies and so far has resisted pressure to change his plans. (Writing by Chris Buckley, additional reporting by Chris Buckley and Lindsay Beck in Beijing and Rob Taylor in Canberra; Editing by David Fogarty) ("Countdown to Beijing Olympics" blog at blogs.reuters.com/china)




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