China allows sanctioned Olympic protests in designated areas

July 23rd, 2008 - 4:57 pm ICT by IANS  

Beijing, July 23 (DPA) China plans to allow protests during the Olympics in three public parks with prior approval, a top security official said Wednesday. “We have designated places for demonstrations at several parks,” Liu Shaowu, director of security for the Beijing organising committee, told reporters.

Liu said the move followed international practice, with protest areas also designated during the previous Olympics in Athens in 2004.

He said one of the designated protest areas was the relatively small Ritan Park, which is in the city centre and close to one of Beijing’s main embassy areas.

The other two areas are in the outlying districts of Fengtai and Haidian, he said.

The allowance of unspecified forms of protest would be made under Beijing’s overall security plan, including stringent efforts to maintain public order, Liu said.

“We have made all efforts to preserve public order, crack down on law violations and resolve issues affecting public order and safety,” Liu said.

He said Beijing was “facing a lot of risks” from potential terrorist attacks.

“To this end, the Olympic Security Department has done a lot to give full play to all professional organisations and the whole society to participate in the Olympic security work and crack down on all disturbances,” he said.

The city has mobilised about 500,000 “social volunteers” to help maintain security and join about 100,000 police and 200,000 security guards plus soldiers and special forces units.

Several human rights groups have criticized Beijing’s per-Olympic security as heavy-handed, especially in its application to dissidents, rights activists and petitioners.

“The current state of affairs is intolerable,” Sharon Hom, the executive director of Human Rights in China, said in a statement Wednesday.

“Under the banner of a ‘peaceful Olympics’, authorities continue to employ contradictory and counterproductive security methods, which only serve to exacerbate the human rights crisis and provoke greater instability in China,” Hom said.

Liu defended the measures and said the government was confident of hosting a “safe Olympics” held in a “good and joyous atmosphere”.

“Through all kinds of efforts and by relying on the support and cooperation from the international society and the general public, we are confident we can deal with all the threats and risks and challenges,” he said.

Liu said the security department wanted the public to “provide us with the information and watch their own neighbourhood and community against the people with potential risk to our games security”.

“For those who intend to sabotage the games, the most important way to control them lies in our people,” Liu said.

The ruling Communist Party normally forbids all forms of organized protest, but it has apparently sanctioned several small anti-Japanese protests in Beijing and other cities over the past three years.

It also designated a protest area during the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995.

The government’s concern about foreigners travelling to Beijing to protest, especially over Tibet and Darfur, resulted in the expulsion of the British Tibetan woman Dechen Pemba in early July.

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