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Four held after Beijing protests

August 6, 2008

From Reuters
By Chris Buckley and Ben Blanchard

Four foreign protesters were held after unfurling Tibet independence banners in Beijing on Wednesday, and three Americans tested Olympic security measures by using central Tiananmen Square to decry abortions.

Two American and two British citizens displayed Tibetan flags and banners declaring “One World, One Dream: Free Tibet” and “Tibet will be free,” the group Students for a Free Tibet said in an e-mail. One of the banners also said “Free Tibet” in Chinese.

The four breached the general Chinese ban on protests, especially over restive Tibet, by scaling power poles near the heavily guarded Bird’s Nest Stadium, where the Olympics open on Friday, Xinhua news agency reported. The protest also came as the Games torch began passing through Beijing under tight security.

Tenzin Dorjee, deputy director of Students for a Free Tibet, said the protest was intended to dramatize complaints about Chinese rule in Tibet as Games preparations climax.

“As the Chinese leadership prepares its display of grandeur and power in Beijing … it is waging a ruthless campaign of repression inside Tibet,” he said in the e-mailed statement.

Beijing Games spokesman Sun Weide told a news conference that his country has rules on “assemblies” and expects foreigners to respect them. China has a law allowing citizens to apply to protest, but approvals are virtually unheard of.

The two British protesters were Iain Thom, 24, and Lucy Marion, 23, and the two Americans were Phill Bartell, 34, and Tirian Mink, 32, said a statement on a Students for Free Tibet website.

A British embassy spokesman said its staff were seeking access to its detained nationals. A U.S. embassy spokeswoman said privacy rules for citizens prevented her from commenting on the matter.

Police rushed to the scene after 12 minutes and took them away, the Xinhua news agency said. Approaches to the Bird’s Nest Stadium are heavily guarded, but Students for a Free Tibet said the protesters showed the banners near it for nearly an hour.

The International Olympics Committee said it expected Beijing authorities would “act with tact and understanding” in responding to such acts. “People will use the platform of the Olympic Games to draw attention to their causes,” IOC spokesperson Emmanuelle Moreau said.

In the afternoon, three Americans denouncing China’s population control policies protested on Tiananmen Square, marking another breach in security.

Patrick Mahoney, Brandi Swindell and Michael McMonagle shouted against Chinese population control measures which sometimes impose forced abortions on women who violate the rule.

“End the brutality,” one yelled on the square, the city’s symbolic heart. “To those who are forced to go through forced abortions and have no voice, we are your voice.”

Police hustled them off the square and questioned them on a nearby bench. Then, unusually for this security-wary country, the three were allowed to leave.

One of the protesters, Ms. Swindell from Boise, Idaho, told Reuters that she and her fellow protesters intended to do so again, something security forces are unlikely to allow.

“We knew we’d be at risk coming here,” she said. “We don’t have the same rights as in America and other countries.”

In Hong Kong, two prominent Chinese activists were blocked from entering the city amid a tightening of immigration and security measures days before equestrian events start there on Saturday.

Yang Jianli, an exiled Chinese democracy activist who lives in the U.S., and Zhou Jian were detained by authorities as they tried to clear immigration at the city’s airport, said fellow activist Zhang Xiaogang who was able to enter Hong Kong earlier.

Earlier in Beijing, a small group of foreign reporters attended the screening of a new documentary about what Tibetans think of the Olympics, produced by a pro-Tibet independence group.

Held in secrecy in a dingy Beijing hotel, the screening was not interrupted by officials, though the German organizer, Jean-Jacques Schwenzfeier said he was aware he could be deported.

“It wasn’t possible for Tibetans to participate like they wanted, so this was the minimum we could do, to show our presence,” he said.

The Beijing Games torch relay was dogged by protests over Chinese rule in Tibet when it made its way through Paris, London and other cities earlier this year.

China has accused followers of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader, of stirring unrest in Tibetan regions in March in a bid to upstage Olympic preparations. The Dalai Lama has denied the claim and said he does not oppose the Games.

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