3 Tibetans Continue Hunger Strike

From News Services
Sunday, February 26, 2006

TURIN, Italy, Feb. 25 -- An elderly Buddhist monk and two other Tibetans on Saturday refused to call off a 12-day-old hunger strike until the International Olympic Committee's president promises to pressure China to improve human rights in Tibet.

The Tibetans -- camped out in a muddy, rain-soaked churchyard not near Winter Games venues -- held to their demands despite a visit from an Italian IOC member who expressed sympathy but pleaded with them to end their strike.

At issue, the Tibetans said, is the IOC's pledge, when it awarded the 2008 Summer Games to Beijing five years ago, to monitor human rights in China. They said they will not break their fast until IOC President Jacques Rogge issues a letter saying the IOC will live up to that promise.

"This is a responsible act," Palden Gyatso, a 72-year-old monk who spent 29 years in Chinese-run prisons in Tibet before fleeing abroad, told reporters. "We ask the IOC to take the opportunity to push the Chinese government to improve human rights."

Rogge has refused to meet with the Tibetans. His chief of staff sent a letter Friday to another Tibetan group, the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet, rejecting the Tibetans' appeal and saying a Beijing Olympics would play a positive role "in China's changing social and economic fabric."

"We believe your demands fall unquestionably well outside the remit of our organization," the letter said.

The standoff brings to the fore an issue that has long drawn international concern -- China's often harsh 55-year rule over Tibet -- and underscores how human rights issues are likely to bedevil the run-up to the 2008 Olympics. China has a range of disaffected groups, from democracy campaigners, the urban unemployed and rural poor to Tibetans and Muslim ethnic groups who have chafed under Chinese rule.

Arakawa Is Golden to Last Bite

They are eating golden doughnuts back home in honor of Japan's only medalist at these Olympics, Shizuka Arakawa.

Arakawa won the glamour event of the Games, ladies' figure skating, on Thursday night, and she was not only awarded a gold medal, but with the sweet tribute from Doughnut Plant NY in Japan. The medal-shaped doughnuts are sprinkled with gold leaf.

Arakawa hopes to boost the popularity of her sport among the Japanese. Rinks have been closing, including the Konami Sports Ice Rink in Sendai where Arakawa trained. She is troubled by such a trend, which in part has forced her to train in Connecticut much of the time.

"The rink where I did most of my fundamental training has closed down," she said. "It's very sad. It's really hard for young people to find a place to train these days. The situation with rinks in Japan isn't good at all. Even when I train in Japan, it's hard to get enough time on the ice. I'm almost forced to train in the United States.

"I wish it were possible in Japan for people to just go to a rink to skate without so much of a hassle."

Perhaps her gold medal, which she wore proudly at a news conference Saturday, will help change the situation. Japan is the rising power in figure skating, with several teenagers ready to push aside Arakawa, 24, and Fumie Suguri, 25. Mao Asada won the Grand Prix final, but at 15 was too young to compete in Turin or the world championships. Miki Ando, the third Japanese woman here, and Yoshie Onda also are top-level skaters. There are a few more in the wings.

So if Arakawa doesn't attend next month's world championships in Calgary -- she sounded doubtful Saturday, but is eager to skate in the 2007 worlds in Tokyo -- the Japanese won't exactly be searching desperately for talent to fill her spot.

"As long as I have the desire to skate, it doesn't really matter where," she said. "I can't say here yet what I intend to do. I will have to wait until I get back to Japan.

"My dream is to perform in ice shows. I want to show my performances to as many people as possible. I wish for many people to know the beauty of skating."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company