Olympic 100 days countdown marred by US and UK criticism of China

By Alexi Mostrous

The actor Jackie Chan joined Chinese officials and other celebrities today in an extravagant celebration of the 100 days countdown to Beijing’s Summer Olympics.

Thousands gathered in the capital to sing “Beijing welcomes you", a song written especially for the countdown. Waves of dancers performed with their hair styled like Olympic rings.

But the grand ceremony was marred by criticism of China from both the White House and Gordon Brown. The Prime Minister said today he was "unhappy" about the country’s actions in Tibet.

The White House said it was “concerned” about the decision of a Chinese Court to jail 30 Tibetans after they rioted in their capital, Lhasa, last month.

Hundreds of Tibetans rampaged through Lhasa's streets on March 17, stabbing and stoning ethnic Han Chinese and setting fire to hundreds of shops and offices.

Officials said that 18 people were killed.

The Intermediate People’s Court in Lhasa yesterday handed down terms of three years to life to the 30 protesters. A Buddhist monk was sentenced to life in prison.

Dana Perino, the White House spokeswoman, said the President was "concerned" about the sentences. “We don’t think that anyone should break the law," she said. "But we also believe in freedom of expression and assembly.”

China has blamed Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and his government-in-exile for plotting the riots.

This week it sealed off the Tibetan capital before the arrival of the Olympic torch relay, closing the Himalayan city to farmers and insisting that even schoolchildren must carry new passes.

Panic buying gripped the city as hundreds of thousands of people prepare for the tight security restrictions.

The International Campaign for Tibet said today that groups of Buddhist monks have been detained from several Lhasa monasteries, which have been sealed off by troops.

The Washington based group cited sources who said that authorities had removed at least six monks from the Nechung monastery, eight from Nalanda monastery and rounded up at least 60 people, including monks from Pangsa monastery, after a protest near Lhasa.

The group also quoted a source as saying up to 100 monks were detained at Rongwu monastery in the neighbouring province of Qinghai.

The accusations came as Gordon Brown said dialogue with China on human rights issues was “difficult” because the UK was “unhappy” with China’s actions in Tibet.

“We’ve got a human rights dialogue with China and it’s very difficult because we’re unhappy about what is happening in Tibet, as is the rest of the world,” Mr Brown told the Institute of Directors’ annual conference in London.

“But we have got a very high level contact with the Chinese on economic investment for the future and I do believe that China sees Britain as their strategic partner in Europe and America together,” he added.

International human rights groups have criticised the Chinese actions, accusing Beijing of mass detentions of monks and activists.

Ms Perino said the White House hoped China would now speak with envoys of the Dalai Lama. Beijing offered to hold talks with the Tibetan leader last week.

“We hope that those conversations are productive,” Ms Perino said. “We think it is in China’s interests that they continue to have those because the Dalai Lama is a man of peace and someone who I think, if they were open to, can help calm the tensions in the area.”

Meanwhile, Chinese mountaineers made final preparations Wednesday to take the Olympic torch up Mount Everest in an operation shrouded in secrecy.

Mountaineers were completing the setup of a staging point at 8,300 meters (27,390 feet) for the final assault on the 8,850-metre (29,035-foot) summit, Chinese TV reported.

But there was no word on the location of the torch or when the 31-member climbing team would scale the peak.

The website of Beijing Daily said that a “mysterious veil that has surrounded base camp.”

Copyright © 2008 Times Online

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Times Online – www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/olympics/article3849693.ece