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Olympics offer a prime opportunity for protesters to air grievances

Olympics offer a prime opportunity for protesters to air grievances

Next year's Beijing Olympics offer a rare opportunity for protesters to air their grievances against China's communist government.
Attempts by disaffected groups to leverage the games present a security nightmare that could spoil China's big moment, threatening the communist leadership during an Olympics it hopes will boost its legitimacy at home and its image abroad.
"From the Chinese government's point of view, there are anti-Chinese forces out there who'll attempt to hijack the Beijing Olympics to promote their selfish agendas," said Beijing-born Xu Xin, a political scientist at Cornell University.
"The presence of a large number of foreign journalists can only embolden certain groups or individuals to piggyback their agendas onto China's intent to host a successful games."
To counter any protests, government spy agencies and think tanks are compiling lists of potentially troublesome foreign organizations, looking beyond the human rights groups long critical of Beijing, said security experts and a consultant familiar with the effort.
Potential troublemakers include evangelical Christians eager to end China's religious restrictions, activists wanting Beijing to use its oil-buying leverage with Sudan to end the strife in Darfur and environmental campaigners angry about global warming.
The effort is among the broadest intelligence-collection drives Beijing has taken against foreign activist groups.
"Demonstrations of all kinds are a concern, including anti-American demonstrations," said the consultant, who works for Beijing's Olympic organizers and asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
Although foreign governments often monitor potentially disruptive groups ahead of big events, Beijing is ranging further afield, targeting groups whose activities would be considered legal in most countries.
As such, the move carries risks. Evidence the communist government is withholding visas or engaged in heavy-handed policing to suppress protests likely would draw negative press and could unnerve the International Olympic Committee and corporate sponsors.
"The key is how the government and organizers handle any protests or incidents," Xu said. "Not whether something may happen. As long as they handle protests and international media appropriately, I think any major negative impact could be avoided."
China's top-ranking policeman, public security minister Zhou Yongkang, has demanded police "strictly guard against and strike hard at hostile forces at home and abroad" who might threaten the games, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
He listed "ethnic splitism, religious extremism, terrorism and Falun Gong" as the major threats. "Ethnic splitism" is code for groups like Tibetans who seek greater independence or autonomy.
China faces a plethora of disaffected domestic groups _ Tibetans eager to cast off Chinese rule, farmers upset at land confiscations and Falun Gong, a once-popular spiritual movement the government suppressed as a cult. A research institute involved in crisis-planning for the Olympics has looked into possible unrest by unemployed workers, analysts at the think tank said.
Xinhua also reported Luo Gan, China's top communist official in charge of legal affairs, cautioned about safeguarding social stability for the games and "guarding against disruptive activities of various hostile forces."
Scott Kronick, the president of Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide's China operations, said he raised concerns about the way protests might be handled when an official with the Beijing Olympic organizing committee asked him about the possibility of activists disrupting the torch relay.
"I said, 'People will understand that. That's the way different groups act. What you need to worry about is what your response is going to be and how you will act,'" said Kronick, whose clients include Adidas, an Olympic sponsor.
The Ministry of Public Security, the national police agency that runs some domestic spying networks, said police would enforce Chinese laws.
"Any organizations or individuals that want to gather, hold demonstrations and protests during the time of the games must abide by the relevant laws of China," the ministry said in a statement sent to the Assocaited Press. "Chinese police will protect legal activities and deal with the illegal activities according to the law."
Like all Olympic hosts since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, China's security services are concerned about terrorism. Attacks by militant Islamic groups, some of them homegrown, top the list of scenarios the police and the military are preparing for, Chinese and foreign security experts said.
"They are worried about a larger number of things, and they are worried about keeping the lid on," said Arnold Howitt, who runs crisis-management training programs for Beijing officials at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.
Those worries have grown in recent months as a multiplying number of foreign groups mounted public campaigns to tie causes as varied as promoting labor rights or protecting sharks.
The Darfur campaigners, who threatened to re-brand the games the "Genocide Olympics" if China does not pressure Sudan to stop the conflict, particularly alarm Beijing.
Though Chinese leaders believe a boycott is unlikely, successful protests by foreigners not only would tarnish the games but also could embolden domestic critics, Chinese foreign policy experts and activists said.
After four Americans unfurled a banner calling for Tibetan independence on the Chinese-controlled side of Mount Everest in April, China tightened access to Tibet for foreigners, especially Americans, Western diplomats in Beijing said.
"Africa, global warming, Darfur," said the security consultant, "without the Olympic Games, Beijing would not be paying attention to these things."
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Associated Press Sports Writer Stephen Wade contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-10-16 12:41 GMT+08:00