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China allows Tiananmen music, warns protesters

August 5, 2008

By Chris Buckley
August 3, 2008

BEIJING (Reuters) - China allowed a first foreign orchestra
performance in Tiananmen Square on Sunday but also gave warnings to
would-be protesters as it tried to show openness yet avoid any late
embarrassment before the Beijing Olympics start.

While local Communist leaders want the August 8-24 Games to showcase
Chinese modernity and economic progress to the world, critics have
used the build-up to put pressure on Beijing over its treatment of
dissent, most notably in Tibet.

A youth orchestra of 2,008 international musicians became the first
foreign group to play in Tiananmen Square, performing a medley of
classical and modern pieces at the Beijing landmark best known to the
world for student protests in 1989.

"This is a significant message from the Chinese to say that China is
now open to the world," one of the participants Max Ronquillo, leader
of the Guam Territorial Band, told Reuters.

"We are making history today."

With just five days to go before Friday's opening ceremony, Beijing
has designated three parks for officially sanctioned demonstrations.
But locals or foreigners wanting to use them must apply five days in advance.

And "citizens must not harm national, social and collective
interests," Liu Shaowu, security chief of the Beijing Games
Organizing Committee, added in a statement.

The Olympics have galvanized global critics of China on an array of
issues from treatment of internal dissidents and censorship of the
Internet to policies over the Darfur conflict.

A 100,000-strong Chinese security force is on hand to deal with
terrorism or anti-government protests during the largest
international event Beijing has staged.


As well as increased scrutiny, the Games have also given the world's
most populous nation, whom many regard as an emerging superpower
likely to soon rival the United States, an unprecedented opportunity
to vaunt its merits.

Second in the Athens 2004 medal table, Chinese hope their athletes
will go one better this time to overtake the U.S. team.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao got into the spirit on Sunday, shooting
hoops during a visit to the men's basketball team, which includes one
of the nation's totemic sportsmen: the 7ft 6in, U.S.-based player Yao Ming.

"Is your health good? ... Is your food okay?" Wen asked Yao before
the official took five shots to get a ball in the ring.

"No matter whether you win or lose, above all do it with spirit ...
Win honor for the motherland."

The gigantic Yao, who plays NBA basketball, is arguably the
best-known face of Chinese sport along with defending Olympic 110
meters hurdle champion Liu Xiang. Their features adorn billboards,
posters and TV commercials across China.

Visitors to Beijing have also been gawping at the main Olympic venue
-- a steel-latticed stadium nicknamed the Bird's Nest -- and various
other futuristic new buildings that are a physical expression of the
new China authorities want to show.

Beijing residents, and a visiting army of journalists -- who, at
around 30,000, will outnumber athletes three-to-one -- caught a
tantalizing glimpse on Saturday night of what is sure to be the most
expensive Olympics ceremony in history.

Fireworks cracked into the Beijing skyline as thousands of workers,
and a handful of reporters sworn to secrecy, watched a dress
rehearsal of the extravaganza.

With two million or so visitors flocking into China for the Games, a
carnival atmosphere has already started to take shape.

Many donned shorts on Sunday morning in sunshine and blue skies that
have replaced weeks of smog for the last three days.

Rain and severe anti-pollution measures, such as taking half of
Beijing's 3.3 million cars off the road and closing down factories,
have helped clear the city's notoriously bad air.

But a familiar haze returned in the afternoon, dulling views of
buildings and distant hills. The local environmental agency said the
main pollution worry -- tiny particles from vehicles and industry --
was edging up.

Overall air quality was still "good," however, it said.

Many health-conscious athletes are, nevertheless, waiting until the
last minute before coming.

Forecasters said on Sunday there was a 41 percent chance of rain,
probably drizzle, on Friday's opening.

August is the peak of China's rainy season, and aircraft are on hand
to seed clouds with chemicals in an attempt to trigger rain before
they reach Beijing if Friday's weather prospects turn really bad.

Some rights groups have urged athletes to use the opening ceremony,
or their competitions, for discreet protests such as flashing a "T"
for Tibet with their fingers.

How Chinese authorities would handle such gestures, in front of
millions on worldwide TV, remains an intriguing question.

(Additional reporting by Belinda Goldsmith, Catherine Bremer)

(Writing by Andrew Cawthorne)
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