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April 07, 2008

Olympics Drama Continues UPDATED

The Olympic Torch passed through London yesterday in what was supposed to be "a journey of harmony." Residents and visitors should be applauded for taking the opportunity to denounce China's actions in Tibet. The relay turned into a major circus, with the torch itself invisible behind a wall of police, violent clashes between Chinese nationals and pro-Tibet demonstrators, and a government crack-down on pro-Tibet speech:

Before the torch arrived police circulated among Tibetan demonstrators ordering them to remove T-shirts and confiscating Tibetan flags in an apparent breach of a promise from Met commanders that police would not intervene to prevent embarrassment to Beijing.

Yonten Ngama, a Tibetan who has been resident in the UK for four years, was ordered to remove a T-shirt scrawled with three slogans, 'China Stop the Killing', 'No Torch in Tibet' and 'Talk to the Dalai Lama'. "They didn't tell me why, they just said I couldn't wear it," he said. Police on the ground declined to comment on the reasons for confiscating the T-shirt.

Whereas the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics relay--which started triumphantly at Wimbledon--was marked by huge, cheering crowds, yesterday's torch passing was attended mostly by Chinese nationals, demonstrators, a £1 million police force, and hovering media helicopters. The plans called for 80,000 spectators, but only a fraction showed up. Several torch-bearers pulled out in protest.

The British government (not to mention President Bush) has declined to support a boycott of the opening ceremony, officially preferring a policy of engagement with China. Commendably, other Western leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, and Czech President Václav Klaus have announced that they will not be attending the event. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has had the most constructive response, laying down three conditions for his participation.

British Minister for the Olympics Tessa Jowell said that the torch had brought an atmosphere of "threat and menace" to London. Meanwhile, outside observers claimed that eight more people were killed in Tibet this weekend after security forces fired into marching protesters. Independent confirmation was not possible, since China isn't releasing information on the unrest and journalists have been banned from the region.

I enjoy the Olympics as much as the next person, and I want to see the Games go forward this year, but I think Sarkozy has the right idea. China wanted the attention (and the money) that comes with hosting the Games. We shouldn't pass up the opportunity to tell them what they're doing wrong.

MORNING UPDATE: The Torch only made it 200 meters in Paris this morning before it had to be put out and placed on a bus for safety.


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posted by Gabriel Malor at 02:31 AM

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