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Turned Off by Torch Guards

Other stops where the flame's guards appear likely to be tested are April 17 in New Delhi, where India's large community of Tibetan exiles will have access; April 26 in Nagano, Japan, a country with a tradition of open demonstrations; and May 2 in Hong Kong, where residents are used to challenging Beijing. The torch will be in Buenos Aires on Friday.

Within mainland China, authorities have vowed to go ahead with a relay leg in Tibet, including an ascent of Mount Everest, despite the violence last month in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, and plans for protests by Tibet independence campaigners. But Olympic organizers have refused to be pinned down on dates for the climb.

The Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games has not told foreign correspondents whether they will be able to cover the Tibet leg. As things stand, foreign journalists have been barred from entering the region, where People's Armed Police have been deployed in large numbers.

The impression left by the Olympic torch guards in London and Paris illustrated the gap between Chinese authorities' idea of crowd control and those of societies with guarantees of free speech and assembly. When the torch arrived in Beijing on March 31, the Tiananmen Square welcoming ceremony was untroubled -- mostly because People's Armed Police had closed the venue to anyone without a pass.

In addition, the senior Communist Party officials responsible for China's Olympic preparations have little experience of foreign societies and their values. The two top Olympic officials -- Xi Jinping of the Politburo's Standing Committee and Liu Qi, the Beijing party secretary -- rose through party ranks in provincial assignments.

Kang Xiaoguang, a sociology researcher at Beijing's Renmin University, said Chinese authorities appear determined to prevent protests, by foreigners as well as Chinese, during both the domestic torch relay and the athletic events in August. Some might argue that the Chinese government would gain by tolerating demonstrators, but that is not the way officials in Beijing think, Kang said.

Moreover, the official mood appears to have hardened since the rioting in Tibet. Since the violence, in which 22 people were killed, Chinese authorities have harshly condemned foreign news media and supporters of Tibet.

When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) seemed to encourage demonstrators in San Francisco, for instance, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, accused her of lacking "morality and conscience." Jiang added, "It is clear that kind of person has ulterior motives to disturb and sabotage the Olympic torch relay in San Francisco and elsewhere over and over."

Correspondents Mary Jordan in London and John Ward Anderson in Paris contributed to this report.


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