Olympic chief calls for peace in Tibet

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge called on China Monday to peacefully end unrest in Tibet, piling further pressure on the nation's communist rulers ahead of the Beijing Games.

Rogge spoke in Beijing after protesters sought to highlight the Tibet crisis and other human rights issues surrounding China during the London leg of the Olympic torch relay on Sunday, with further demonstrations expected in Paris on Monday.

"The International Olympic Committee has expressed its serious concern and called for a rapid, peaceful resolution of Tibet," Rogge said in a speech at the beginning of a three-day meeting of National Olympic Committee heads here.

"Violence for whatever reason is not compatible with the values of the torch relay or the Olympic Games."

Beijing has faced international criticism over its crackdown on protests in Tibet that began on March 10 and spread to other areas of China with Tibetan populations.

Exiled Tibetan leaders say more than 150 people have been killed in the unrest, triggered by what Tibetans say has been nearly 60 years of repression under Chinese rule.

China insists its security forces have killed no one while trying to quell the protests. However it says Tibetan "rioters" have killed 20 people.

Determining the real situation has proved extremely difficult because China has sealed off Tibet and other hotspot areas from foreign journalists, while distributing only its version of events through its state-run press.

In the latest reported major protest, Chinese security forces shot dead eight protesters in southwest China's Sichuan province on Thursday last week, according to Tibetan activist groups.

China's official Xinhua news agency said police fired "warning shots", but did not acknowledge the reported deaths, and said the protesters wounded one local official.

In his speech on Monday, Rogge acknowledged the torch relay had been a focus of protests and that the Tibet crisis was casting a shadow over the lead up to the Games in August.

"The torch relay has been targeted," he said. "We are all very concerned by the current international situation. Events in Tibet have triggered a wave of protests among governments, media, and non-government organisations."

The relay leg in London saw chaotic scenes as British police battled to keep pro-Tibet demonstrators away from the Olympic flame, arresting 37 protesters who tried to disrupt the high-security tour.

Media freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) -- which disrupted the lighting of the flame last month in Athens -- promised to stage "symbolic, spectacular" actions in Paris.

Pro-Tibetan activists are also to hold a day of protests opposite the Eiffel Tower from 10:00 am (0800 GMT), but not directly on the flame's route.

And Paris's Socialist mayor Bertrand Delanoe plans to unfurl a giant banner over city hall in defence of human rights.

Rogge, who will remain in Beijing for a three-day IOC board meeting that starts on Wednesday, again dismissed talk of a boycott of the Games over Tibet and other issues, including human rights.

"Some politicians have played with the idea of boycotts. As I speak today, however, there is no momentum for a generalised boycott," he said.

"Fortunately, the public has realised that boycotts don't help and only penalise the athletes."

However the issue of how much freedom athletes will have to express their political views was a hot topic among national Olympic chiefs in Beijing on Monday, and Rogge was expected to address these concerns later in the week.

"I've spent 30 minutes talking to the IOC chief about this matter and he will make a comprehensive statement on Thursday morning about this issue," said the head of the Association of European National Olympic Committees, Patrick Hickey, on Monday.

Some athletes have already spoken out in opposition to some of China's policies, particularly its alliance with the Sudan government and whether that has contributed to the violence in Darfur.

However, athletes are bound by an Olympic charter that limits what they can say and do about political issues during any Games.

Copyright © 2008 AFP

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