China refuses peace bikers entry

A group of 55 Greek motorcyclists who set off from Athens last month in a bid to drive to Beijing with the aim of promoting peace have been refused permission to enter China due to security fears, it emerged yesterday. The participants in the «Routes of the Olive Tree» trip, who set off from Greece on July 14, were hoping to deliver an olive branch to Beijing to coincide with the Olympic Games, which will begin on Friday. But Chinese authorities have decided to prevent the group from entering the country despite pleas from Greece’s Interior Ministry, the Council of Europe and the Greek ambassador in Beijing. Security in China was tight ahead of the Olympics but has been stepped up even more after 16 police officers were killed in an attack in the western Xinjiang region earlier this week. The motorcyclists, who are currently in Kazakhstan, will head to Moscow instead. «The message of peace and the reconciliation of different peoples is a message that can be carried on the wind and no physical border can stop that,» said the executive director of «Routes of the Olive Tree,» Giorgos Karabatos. «The aim and the feeling of our trip will not change because of rejection from the Chinese. Of course we are upset that we will not reach Beijing during the Olympics, but we feel that the message we wanted to send has reached all the places that we have visited.» The change in the bikers’ plans means they will no longer ride through Mongolia, heading along the Trans-Siberian Highway to Moscow instead. There they will take part in an event promoting Greece and its olives that will take place from September 23 to 26. The refusal by China was the latest setback for the motorcyclists. A 51-year-old member of the group was killed last month in a collision with a truck in Georgia. However, Filio Mirtsidou, a journalist who is part of the group, says the journey has been worth it. «We are riding for long hours, which is very tiring but the result means that it’s worth the effort because of the places you see and the people you meet,» she told Kathimerini.