Olympia protesters are released

Three human rights demonstrators arrested for disrupting Monday’s flame-lighting ceremony at Ancient Olympia to protest China’s crackdown in Tibet were freed yesterday. The three French journalists, members of the French media rights group Reporters Without Borders, said they had not intended to criticize Greece but to contest Beijing’s right to host this year’s Olympics. It seemed that their outburst had some impact. Questioned by reporters after the incident, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he would consider a personal boycott of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony if China refuses to open a dialogue with the Dalai Lama on Tibet. «All options are open and I appeal to the Chinese leaders’ sense of responsibility,» Sarkozy said. The White House said US President George W. Bush still intends to attend the Games. The incident embarrassed Greek authorities, who had planned a large-scale security operation. The three protesters bypassed guards to access the ancient site. One ran up behind a Chinese Olympic official who had been delivering a speech to a large crowd of dignitaries, including Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, and unfurled a black flag depicting the Olympic rings as handcuffs. The disruption was aired briefly on state television, which then cut away from the protester being dragged off by police and zoomed in on the Chinese spokesman. In China, state television did not broadcast the incident, cutting to prerecorded footage. Chinese Foreign Ministry officials yesterday condemned «these elements of sabotage and chaos.» Greek government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros also criticized «actions that have nothing to do with the Olympic spirit.» International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge, who was also at the ceremony, said, «It is always sad to see such a ceremony disrupted.» Before the ceremony, Rogge had admitted to fearing possible hijacks of the torch relay. The torch yesterday reached Ioannina in northwestern Greece. The flame is to be handed over to the Chinese in a ceremony at Athens’s Panathenaic Stadium on March 30.

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