June 25, 2008 / 3:37 PM / 11 years ago

UPDATE 2-IOC tells China to stop mixing politics and sport

(Releads with IOC reaction to speech)

By Nick Mulvenney

BEIJING, June 25 (Reuters) - The International Olympic Committee (IOC) told China on Wednesday to stop mixing sport and politics after a speech by Tibet’s Communist Party boss at the end of last weekend’s Beijing torch relay leg in Lhasa.

“The IOC regrets that political statements were made during the closing ceremony of the Torch Relay in Tibet,” the IOC said in a brief statement.

“We have written to BOCOG (Beijing Games organisers) to remind them of the need to separate sport and politics and to ask for their support in making sure that such situations do not arise again.”

The IOC has said before it has “no political mandate” to instruct countries how to behave and had to fend off growing international criticism it was doing too little to press China on human rights violations and Tibet.

It has also worked hard to keep Games-linked events and ceremonies as politics-free as possible as scrutiny of China’s foreign policies and human rights records is mounting with the Aug 8-24 Games approaching.

Hardliner Zhang Qingli made the comments at a ceremony marking the end of Saturday’s two-hour parade of the Olympic flame through the streets of Lhasa, the scene of anti-Chinese riots in March.

“Tibet’s sky will never change and the red flag with five stars will forever flutter high above it ... we will certainly be able to totally smash the splittist schemes of the Dalai Lama clique,” he said in front of the Potala, the traditional seat of the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism.

DENOUNCED CRITICS

Beijing blamed Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and his followers for the March 14 riots in Lhasa and accused him of scheming to split the Himalayan region from China.

China often rails against the Dalai Lama, but not at Olympic-related events. It has often denounced critics for politicising the Games and the Olympic charter states that no kind of demonstration or political propaganda is permitted “in any Olympic sites or other areas”.

The Dalai Lama denied being behind the riots, said he just wanted autonomy and religious freedom in Tibetan areas of the country and has called on his followers to support the Beijing Olympics as well as the torch relay.

The transcript of Zhang’s speech on the website of the Tibet Information Office website (info.tibet.cn) omitted the line about the Dalai Lama.

Lhasa’s Communist Party boss, Qin Yizhi, also denounced the Dalai Lama at the opening ceremony of the Lhasa leg of the relay on Saturday, saying it would “smash the scheming of the Dalai clique”.

Tibet has cast a long shadow over the torch relay, which China hoped would project the image of a modern and vibrant country ahead of the Games.

But the March riots became a focus of anti-Chinese protests and counter-demonstrations on relay legs in London, Paris and San Francisco, prompting ugly scenes which alarmed the IOC.

China on Wednesday said the international leg of the Paralympic torch relay had been cancelled, giving the devastating May 12 Sichuan earthquake as the reason.

The torch had been scheduled to visit Olympic host cities of London, Vancouver and Sochi as well as Hong Kong before the Sept 6-17 Paralympics but will now be restricted to mainland China. (Additional reporting by Chris Buckley and Karolos Grohmann in Athens; editing by Miles Evans)

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

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