LAUSANNE, Switzerland (Reuters) - Tibetan activists demonstrated outside the International Olympic Committee’s headquarters on Tuesday, demanding the Himalayan region and three neighboring provinces be withdrawn from the Beijing Olympics torch relay.
Protesters handed over a letter from the International Tibet Support Network which also urged the IOC to “make a public statement about the discrepancy between China’s promises to uphold human rights... and its violent crackdown in Tibet over the last five days.”
“We are saddened and feel that the IOC has failed in its job of telling the Chinese people that this is not what the world expects,” the president of Tibet’s unofficial Olympic Committee Wangpo Tethong said as he handed over the letter, signed by 150 Tibetan organizations.
Around 600 pro-Tibet demonstrators gathered outside the building, carrying banners that accused the IOC and its president Jacques Rogge of tacitly encouraging the Chinese government’s military crackdown.
One banner read “Mr Rogge, your silence is killing the Tibetans”, while another asked “IOC, how can you accept the bloodshed in Tibet?”
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao earlier said the riots in the Himalayan region had been incited with the aim of sabotaging the August 8-24 Games and reiterated China’s view that the Olympics should not be politicized.
Anti-China protests in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa turned ugly on Friday and threaten to overshadow the run-up to the Olympic Games, which Beijing hoped would project an image of a united and prosperous society.
The torch relay, which starts next Monday when the Olympic flame is lit in Ancient Olympia, Greece, is scheduled to go to Tibet twice.
The International Tibet Support Network said its letter to the IOC had demanded that the torch relay not go through Tibet, Qinghai, Sichuan and Gansu provinces, all home to ethnic Tibetans.
“Unless the IOC wants the Olympic Torch to become a symbol of bloodshed and oppression, they must immediately withdraw all Tibetan provinces from the Olympic Torch relay route,” a spokesperson was quoted as saying in the statement.
The torch relay schedule was drawn up by the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG) before being given rubber-stamp approval by the IOC last year.
The IOC still expects the relay to go according to schedule.
”The IOC adds its voice to the world’s desire for a peaceful resolution to the tensions of the past days in Tibet.
The Olympic Torch Relay, which embodies the Olympic values of friendship, respect and excellence, is due to travel to Lhasa in June,” it said in a statement late on Monday.
”The Olympic Torch is a powerful symbol which inspires people from all over the world to overcome their differences and come together in mutual understanding in anticipation of the Games which it heralds.
“The IOC’s expectation is that the 2008 torch relay will go ahead as planned,” it said.
Wen earlier accused the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, of orchestrating the riots that erupted in Lhasa last week, leaving dozens dead.
“We need to respect the principles of the Olympics and the Olympic charter. That is, we should not politicize the Olympic Games,” he told a news conference.
“In fact, you the reporter can see the essence of the incident that recently occurred in Tibet. They wanted to incite the sabotage of the Olympic Games in order to achieve their unspeakable goal.”
The Dalai Lama and his supporters in exile have repeatedly denied that they were behind the violence. The Dali Lama has also expressed support for the Games.
Rogge said on Monday that no governments had called for a boycott of the Olympics over Tibet.
The United States, which led a major boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, has no intention to stop its athletes from going to Beijing, according the United States Olympic Committee.
But in Taiwan, which China considers its own, presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou, whose KMT Party has traditionally favored better ties with China, said on Tuesday he would consider an Olympic boycott if elected on Saturday.
Wen denied accusations China had embarked on a crackdown on dissent in the run-up to the Games.
“As for the critics’ view that China is trying to increase its efforts to arrest dissidents ahead of the Olympic Games, I think all these accusations are unfounded,” he said.
Wen said China’s aim was to ”host an even better Olympics, so that the athletes are happy and the people of the whole world are happy.
“But we’re still not a developed country so in the work of preparing for the Olympic Games it’s difficult for us to avoid all sorts of problems,” he said. “But the Chinese people are sincerely heartfelt in wanting to hold a successful Olympics.”
(Take a look at the Countdown to Beijing blog at blogs.reuters.com/china)
Additional writing by Nick Mulvenney in Beijing and Karolos Grohmann in Athens; Editing by Nick Macfie and Trevor Huggins