China forces green activist to halt 3,000-km walk to Olympics

June 13th, 2008 - 5:10 pm ICT by IANS  

Hong Kong, June 13 (DPA) A British environmentalist walking across China to highlight environmental issues in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics was Friday forced to abandon his walk after being refused a new visa. Paul Coleman, 53, has walked more than 2,500 km since setting out from Hong Kong to Beijing last September, promoting tree planting and speaking out against the excessive use of plastic bags.

However, when he returned to Hong Kong to renew his visa and complete the last 800 km to Beijing before the start of the August games, he was refused a new visa under strict new regulations introduced to tighten security ahead of the Olympics.

Because he was unable to tell officials in the visa office in Hong Kong where he will stay every night, they refused him a visa, forcing him to abandon his marathon across China.

The controversial new regulations, introduced in April, oblige foreigners to show flight tickets and detailed itineraries for their stays in China or be refused entry.

Speaking on Hong Kong’s government-run radio station RTHK Friday, Coleman, who has renewed his visa in Hong Kong several times before, said: “The (visa) application process has changed.

“I was required to list where I was staying every night. I’m walking so I couldn’t possibly prove where I would stay. I never know until I get to the place.”

Coleman, a former chauffeur from Salford, Manchester, who is known as Earth Walker for his marathon treks, has walked more than 50,000 km across 39 countries with no money over the past 19 years to raise awareness of environmental issues.

He survives by getting help and support from locals and government officials and says he has been warmly received everywhere he has gone in China.

Since 2000, Coleman has planted one million trees along the routes of his walks in a crusade to plant 100 million in total - one for every person killed in global conflicts over the past century.

Coleman, whose exploits are documented on his website, said he would continue trying to get a visa to return to China from Hong Kong and complete his walk.

“We have 800 km to go but every day that I’m delayed is adding more kilometres to my daily walk when I return to China,” he said.

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