China: We’ll take Olympic torch through Tibet – and punish protesters severely
From Daily Mail – China vowed today to carry the Olympic torch through Tibet and promised “severe” punishment for any protesters there.
Speaking as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Richard Gere joined pro-Tibet protesters in San Francisco, the Himalayan region’s Chinese-appointed governor said he was prepared for activists to cause “trouble” for the torch relay on its way to Mount Everest next month.
“For these separatist forces, the Olympics in Beijing will be a rare opportunity,” Champa Phuntsok said in Beijing. “Therefore they wish to create major troubles or incidents. I don’t doubt they will create trouble during the torch relay in Tibet.”
But he said special security preparations had been made for the Tibet relay leg to ensure it would be “completely successful and safe.”
“During the torch relay in Tibet and in climbing Mount Everest, if anyone should attempt to disrupt or undermine the torch relay, then they will be dealt with severely according to the law,” he said.
Thousands of raucous protesters angry about China’s policies in Tibet and its human rights record have already disrupted the torch relay’s round-the-world tour at stops in London and Paris.
Heavy security has been deployed in San Francisco, the next stop, after protesters there climbed the Golden Gate Bridge to hang the Tibetan flag earlier this week.
The threat to protesters in Tibet came today as Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, visiting Beijing, told the Chinese there must be dialogue with Tibet.
He said he was against any boycott of the Games but insisted there were significant human rights problems in Tibet.
“Some have called for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics Games … I do not agree,” said Mr Rudd, a former Australian diplomat based in Beijing, in a speech in fluent Mandarin at Peking University.
“I believe the Olympics are important for China’s continuing engagement with the world.
“But we also believe it is necessary to recognize that there are significant human rights problems in Tibet.”
Describing himself as “a long-standing friend of China”, he said he would be having a “straightforward discussion” with China’s leaders on the subject.
Pro-Tibet groups had pushed for the Australian premier to speak out on Tibet during his China visit.
“We recognize the need for all parties to avoid violence and find a solution through dialogue,” said Mr Rudd, who is due to meet Chinese premier Wen Jiabao tomorrow and to attend an international economic forum on Friday along with Chinese president Hu Jintao.
Warning: Protesters string up giant banners on the Golden Gate Bridge ahead of today’s torch relay in San Fransisco
Mr Rudd is the second visiting world leader to comment this week in China on the taboo Tibetan issue. On Monday New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark urged China to show restraint in its response to the protests and engage in dialogue with its critics.
Beijing claims it is handling Tibetan issues appropriately and has rejected calls for dialogue with Tibet’s exiled Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, accusing his supporters of orchestrating the violence.
Chinese police have detained a total of 953 suspects over the rioting in Tibet last month.
The 72-year-old Nobel laureate has denied involvement in the violence and condemned it, insisting he wants Tibetan autonomy under Chinese rule, not independence.
Pro-Tibet protests continued last night in San Francisco after the arrival of the Olympic torch there.
They culminated in a candlelit vigil for Tibet, with speeches by actor Richard Gere and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who called on George Bush and other heads of state to boycott the opening ceremonies in Beijing.
“We must tell the leaders of the world, ‘For goodness sake, for God’s sake, for the sake of your children, our children, for the sake of the beautiful people of Tibet, don’t go,’” Mr Tutu told the crowd.
Today a massive security operation was under way in the city as the Olympic torch made its only US stop on its journey to Beijing.
Police swamped the Golden Gate Bridge as officials prepared for protests against China’s crackdown in Tibet. Pro-Tibet banners were unfurled on the bridge on Monday.
The Olympic flame was whisked to a secret location in San Francisco shortly after its arrival before dawn yesterday, following chaotic demonstrations during the torch relay in London and Paris.
The torch was due to be paraded today on a six-mile route around San Francisco Bay. One runner who planned to carry the torch has already dropped out over safety concerns, officials said.
Mayor Gavin Newsom said the relay’s route could well be changed by the city’s police chief.
He added the relay’s opening and closing ceremonies had been shortened.
The International Olympic Committee today said it had no plans to cut short the global torch relay.
Olympics chief Jacques Rogge said: “There is no discussion of cancelling any legs. What we will do is study the torch relay so far. We will do this in the executive board meeting on Friday.”
Hours after the torch arrived in San Francisco, protesters marched to the Chinese consulate, calling on China to cease its heavy-handed rule of Tibet.
“This is not about us battling the torchbearers,” Lhadom Tethong, executive director of Students for a Free Tibet, told the crowd outside the consulate. “This is about the Chinese government using the torch for political purposes. And we’re going to use it right back.”
San Francisco was chosen to host the relay in part because of its large Chinese population – a fifth of the city’s totla.
Pro-Tibet activists and other human rights groups said they have encouraged their supporters to protest peacefully and not disrupt the relay or the torch runners.
After San Francisco, the torch is due to travel to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and then to 12 other countries. The relay also is expected to face demonstrations in New Delhi and possibly elsewhere on its 21-stop, six-continent tour before arriving in mainland China on 4 May.