Police scuffle with Tibetan protesters at Olympic venue

Police scuffled with Tibetan protesters in the main Olympic Stadium complex yesterday, just hours before the presentation of the Olympic flag to organizers of the 2008 Beijing Games during the closing ceremony. After passing through a security checkpoint to enter the stadium complex, six activists from the International Tibet Support Network unfurled a black flag with five bullet holes replacing the Olympic rings, and began marching toward the main stadium. They were stopped by about two dozen police and security guards who seized the flag in a brief scuffle. Police also searched the protesters’ bags, confiscating several T-shirts and stickers with the same logo and copies of a report on human rights in Tibet. There were no injuries and the protesters began a sit-down protest, saying they were waiting to speak to a representative of the International Olympic Committee. The group said it wanted to hand the flag to the IOC so it could be presented to the Beijing organizers during the ceremony. «We feel that this is the flag that Beijing truly deserves,» said spokesman Tenzin Sewo, who added that «China doesn’t deserve these Games as long as Tibet is occupied and human rights are violated.» Wangpo Tethong, one of the protesters, said the group was aware that political banners were not allowed in any Olympic venues, but felt it had no other choice as repeated appeals to the IOC had been ignored. «We resorted to some activity which may seem a bit desperate, but we feel a bit desperate too,» he said. China claims Tibet has been part of its territory for at least seven centuries, but many Tibetans say they were an independent nation for most of that time. Rights groups such as Amnesty International have accused China, which invaded Tibet in 1951, of widespread human rights abuses, while the US State Department accuses Chinese authorities in Tibet of carrying out executions without due process and engaging in torture and arbitrary arrest. The International Tibet Support Network, which unfurled the same banner under the ancient Acropolis in central Athens earlier this week, has already asked for spectators at the closing ceremony to bring the alleged abuses into focus by not applauding during the handover of the flag. «Although we are disappointed at the treatment we have been given here in Athens, what is even more disturbing is the prospect of how Beijing will deal with dissent in 2008,» Tethong said. At a news conference earlier in the day, IOC President Jacques Rogge said that while he has told Chinese leaders that human rights should be respected, it was not his organization’s role to keep watch. «It is not up to the IOC to monitor human rights. We are not inspectors of human rights. We are not equipped for that. We are a sports organization,» he said.

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