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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Quake mutes protests of Beijing Olympics

May 26, 2008

Sympathy for China has risen as its earthquake death toll nears 56,000.
By Stephen Wade
The Associated Press
Saturday, May 24, 2008

BEIJING -- China's deadly earthquake may have saved the Beijing Olympics.

Just a few weeks ago, International Olympic Committee President
Jacques Rogge described the games as "in crisis." They were being
battered by pro-Tibet protests, health concerns about Beijing's
noxious pollution and calls for boycotts tied to China's support for Sudan.

The May 12 earthquake changed everything.

"I'm sorry to say it, but this has turned things around," said
Gerhard Heiberg, a member of the International Olympic Committee's
executive board and its marketing director.

After the tragedy in Sichuan province, the games are riding a wave of
goodwill -- a feeling that the government had failed for months to generate.

Emergency crews worked Friday to secure 15 sources of radiation
buried in the rubble of the quake, the government said as it
evacuated thousands of survivors downstream from rivers dammed by landslides.

Wu Xiaoqing, China's vice minister for environmental protection, said
50 sources of radiation were buried by quake debris, 35 of which had
been secured. The rest lay buried under collapsed buildings or are
otherwise unreachable.

He gave no specifics about the radiation sources, but foreign experts
say the radioactive sources likely are materials used in hospitals,
factories or in research, not for weapons.

The confirmed death toll rose Friday to 55,740 with 24,960 other
people still missing, said the State Council, China's Cabinet.

With 11 weeks remaining before the Olympics begin Aug. 8, it's
possible that another unexpected event could change feelings toward
China. Politics still loom, and some athletes are still expected to
use the games to speak out on political issues like Darfur and Tibet.

"What the earthquake has done ... it has essentially pushed the
coverage of the preparations for the Olympics to the margins,
temporarily," said Phelim Kine, Hong-Kong based Asia researcher for
Human Rights Watch. "But that coverage and focus will quickly return
in the days and weeks ahead.

"The media will move on from this immediate focus on the humanitarian
tragedy in Sichuan, and there will be space for other stories and
other coverage," he said.

At a track and field event that opened Thursday at the 91,000-seat
National Stadium -- the new games' centerpiece known as the "Bird's
Nest" -- donation boxes for quake victims dotted the venue.

Activist groups acknowledge that China's state-controlled media -- by
allowing uncharacteristic openness in 24-hour earthquake coverage --
have shaped the news agenda and gained sympathy for a catastrophe
that has killed more than 55,000 people. Instead of criticism, China
is receiving praise for its quick earthquake response.

Known for its secrecy, the Chinese government has let earthquake
coverage flow more freely, with less censorship in an era of
quick-moving text messages and the Internet.

State-controlled China Central Television has produced nonstop
coverage of the disaster. The government initially allowed more
aggressive news reporting, most dealing with the government's rapid
response, heroic rescues and grieving.

"Maybe the Chinese government hasn't had time to think about it, but
later it may come to realize that, compared with the state-controlled
media, the words from the ordinary people at the grass roots are more
convincing and influential," said Luo Qing, who teaches at Beijing's
Communication University of China.

"We really don't see that we have been outmaneuvered by the
government," said Matt Whitticase, a spokesman for the Free Tibet
Campaign. "Obviously, the earthquake has been awful, an act of God
that no one could have predicted."
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