Olympic Official Criticizes Anti-Chinese Protests

Buddhist Monks Continue to Protest in China

By Maureen Fan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, April 9, 2008; 1:44 PM

BEIJING, April 9 -- A high-ranking Olympic official declared Wednesday that anti-Chinese protests during the torch relay had been "unacceptable," while acknowledging that he had watered down an official statement urging China to settle the conflict in Tibet.

Meanwhile, a fresh protest by Buddhist monks during a government-organized media tour in Gansu province, near Tibet, further embarrassed Chinese officials. Chinese officials have been outraged over protests in London and Paris during the torch rally. But those protests have also put an uncomfortable spotlight on Olympic organizers, who have made a steadfast attempt to avoid political issues.

"I think we are slightly overwhelmed by the torch relay, which travels around the world, and I think it will be necessary to make some changes in the future," said Mario Vazquez Rana, president of the Association of National Olympic Committees, speaking after an association meeting in Beijing. Rana also called for possible changes to torch relay routes for future Olympic Games.

"A change is needed because today's situation is unacceptable in a country that organizes the Games . . . . . there are always problems, so there is no need to add further problems by having to worry about the torch around the whole world," he said.

Rana's comments came as protesters in San Francisco vowed to extinguish the torch on its only North American stopover and as the China-appointed governor of Tibet promised "severe" punishment for anyone who interferes with the torch as it makes its way through the Himalayan region in the coming months.

The Olympics have been so upstaged by complaints about China's human rights record that the central government has reportedly invited several British and U.S. public relations agencies to discuss how to better improve its image.

Activists have demanded that the torch relay skip Tibet, where it is likely to inflame tensions and draw more protests. Chinese officials have so far refused to make any changes, but concerns about disruptions at nearly every stop of the torch so far have prompted International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge to direct the committee's executive board to discuss the matter Friday.

Meanwhile, a group of young monks disrupted a media tour of the Labrang Monastery in a heavily Tibetan area of southwest Gansu province. Sympathy demonstrations broke out there after last month's deadly riots in Lhasa, reportedly prompting police to fire tear gas into a crowd of 1,000 monks and other Tibetan protesters.

ABC reporter Chito Santa Romana said he had just received a white prayer shawl inside a grand hall when he heard a noise from outside. "We rushed out, and there was this group of monks, younger monks, marching in the plaza outside. They were carrying the banner you saw in the London protests, featuring the banned Tibetan snow lion. They were chanting and marching," Romana said.

A core group of 12 to 15 monks swelled to about 30, Romana said. They spoke mostly Tibetan, gesticulated with their hands and circled among the reporters for about 10 or 15 minutes. "They were very serious, very grim, very determined. There was a bit of anger," he said.

"We want human rights, we have no human rights," one monk who spoke Chinese said, according to Romana. "We want the Dalai Lama to return. The Dalai Lama is not asking for independence. We want to protect our own culture."

Chinese officials leading the tour did not try to stop reporters from covering the protest, Romana said. The journalists were taken to a reception hall where senior monks said the protesters only represented a small minority of the 1,000 monks at the monastery. "They said they were young and did not understand the history of China and Tibet and that they are misled by separatists," Romana said.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company