Protests at Olympic torch handover

Pro-Tibet activists try to disrupt Greek handover ceremony to Beijing officials.

    Police arrested 130 pro-Tibet protestors outside the Chinese embassy visa office in Nepal [Reuters]

    Olympic protests

    China is bracing itself for protests as it prepares for the arrival of the Olympic torch in Beijing on Monday.

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    Minos Kyriakou, president of the Hellenic Olympic Committee, called for the flame to be respected during its journey.

    "The Olympic flame is the timeless symbol which stirs admiration, pride and faith [in] the Olympic ideals and values," Kyriakou said.

    "I hope the world community welcomes the flame and honours it, showing the same feeling and necessary respect [as Greeks did]."

    Human rights activists and Tibetan demonstrators disrupted the globally televised torch lighting ceremony in ancient Olympia on Monday, breaking a security cordon and unfurling protest banners during a speech by a Beijing organiser.

    The four-month worldwide torch relay is expected to be dogged by protests.
    Beijing checks
    China has tightened security in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, where the Olympic torch will be officially welcomed to the country on Monday.
    New sport checks on visitors have been announced to "strengthen public security", according to a government website.

    But Liu Qi, the Beijing games chief, spoke positively about China's plans for the relay.

    "The Chinese government and its people will host a grand welcoming ceremony and officially launch the torch relay of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games."

    "The torch will for the first time ascend the summit of the world [Mount Everest], thereby testifying to the great strength of the Olympic movement in marking the progress of human civilization." 
    China has come under heavy pressure from the international community to open a dialogue with the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader.
    However, on Sunday the Xinhua state news agency said the exiled leader had "closed the door of dialogue."
    Nepal monks arrested
    In Nepal, a group of 200 Tibetan exiles and Buddhist monks tried to storm the Chinese embassy visa office in Kathmandu but they were beaten back by police with bamboo batons.
    At least 130 protesters were arrested and injuries were reported among the demonstrators and policemen.

    The torch arrives in Beijing on Monday [AFP]

    The protesters reached the metal gate of the fortified compound and tried to kick and push their way in.
    Tibetans have protested in front of the office in the past, but this is the first time they reached the gate.
    Police said they would likely be freed within hours without charge.
    Sunday's protests are the latest against Beijing’s crackdown in Tibet.
    According to the Tibetan government in exile and activist groups protests took place in Lhasa on Saturday.
    Hundreds of residents in the city’s Tibetan quarter as said to have had their identity checked by police according to the International Campaign for Tibet and the Free Tibet Campaign, who cited their own sources.
    Police are reported to have surrounded key Buddhist temples and closed shops in the area.
    None of the reports could be verified.

    Political casualty
    On Sunday, the state-controlled Tibet Daily announced that the director of Tibet's ethnic minority and religious affairs commission had been replaced.
    He is believed to be the first political casualty of the unrest which has bought unwanted attention to China and its human rights record.
    Activists in Tibet began rallying on March 10 to mark a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule.
    Demonstrations erupted into widespread rioting in Lhasa and spread to neighbouring Chinese provinces.  
    Beijing says the rioters killed 18 innocent civilians and two police officers.
    Exiled Tibetan leaders have put the death toll from the Chinese crackdown at between 135 and 140 Tibetans, with another 1,000 people injured and many detained.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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