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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?"

Jittery Beijing awaits Olympics

August 5, 2008

Security is tight, fun absent as China's crackdown continues
The Associated Press
By Charles Hutzler
August 3, 2008

BEIJING -- With days to go before the Olympics -- a time when most
host cities are set to offer the world a warm greeting — Beijing seems wary.

Photo: Greg Baker/Associated Press - Performers wait to go on stage
during a cultural and sports show in Beijing's Tiananmen Square to
celebrate the upcoming Olympic Games. The high level of security has
served as a reminder that China, despite recent modernization, is
still a police state.

Hotels are empty as stricter visa rules keep visitors away. Police in
bulletproof vests and with bomb-sniffing dogs prowl roadways.
Peddlers have been told to clear off the streets, and unsightly
restaurants have been closed. New postal rules prohibit the mailing
not only of explosives, but any pastes, electronics and
"unidentifiable metal objects."

Even in the hills outside Beijing, farmers who have turned their
farmhouses into inns have been told by police to turn away one group
of would-be guests: foreigners.

"Oh, that's a bit troublesome," said Sun Fuwang, proprietor of the
Spartan Fuwang Farm Home near the tombs of China's last imperial rulers.

Alongside stunning sports venues, new subway lines and floral
displays, Beijing is rolling out restrictive measures dampening any
festive feeling ahead of the games, which start Friday and run through Aug. 24.

"It's like they're getting ready to throw a great party and then
trying to restrain the partygoers," said Bob Dietz of the New
York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, who couldn't get a visa
despite 20 years of travel to China. "They're not ready to welcome the world."

Chinese officials have defended the moves as necessary to prevent
terrorism and keep out what a Foreign Ministry consular affairs
official called "hostile forces." The list of disaffected groups is
long, from unemployed workers to foreign activists critical of
China's policies on human rights.

But the mood contrasts with the lavish, meticulous preparations for
an Olympics long billed as the celebration of an open, modern China.
It shows just how shaken Chinese leaders are by unforeseen,
tumultuous events this year.

Freak snowstorms that paralyzed the south and an earthquake that
killed nearly 70,000 people revealed vulnerabilities at home, while a
Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule and protests against the
Olympic torch relay exposed the government's lack of acceptance
abroad. In between, police said they foiled plots by Muslims from
China's Central Asian borderlands, one to blow up a Chinese airliner,
the other to kidnap Olympic athletes and journalists.

In recent weeks, ordinary Chinese have acidly paired the calamities
with the five whimsical Olympic mascots: Beibei the fish with the
snowstorms, Jingjing the panda with the Sichuan earthquake, Huanhuan
the Olympic flame with the torch relay, Yingying the Tibetan antelope
with the Tibet protests and Nini the bird either with a train
derailment in April or soaring inflation.

With the games drawing near, the communist leadership called in
senior government and provincial officials last month to put them on
notice that there should be no security glitches. More than 440,000
people have been mobilized for security for the games, from crack
commando squads to neighborhood watch patrols, and leaders are trying
to temper public expectations for a superb games.

"In the beginning, the Beijing municipal government says they want to
have the best games in Olympic history. Now they say a 'high-quality
Olympics with Chinese characteristics.' They have lowered
expectations," said Jin Canrong, an international affairs expert at
Renmin University. "If the games go without incident, that will be successful."

Beijing's games still could please. The city's $40 billion makeover
has transformed the ancient, often dull low-rise capital into a
metropolis of 24-hour bustle. Traditional culture puts a premium on
being a good host. Normally unruly Beijingers have been told how to
cheer for foreign teams and to line up for buses instead of pushing onboard.

All the security efforts are drawing attention to something Chinese
leaders have hoped to play down -- that China is still a police
state, if a chaotic one. They are also raising questions about
whether a festive Olympics is possible.

Nightspots near the Worker's Stadium and Worker's Gymnasium, where
boxing and other events will be held, have been ordered shut for the
games, as a security precaution. Elsewhere, bars and restaurants
which often stay open until the last patron leaves, have been told 2
a.m. is the limit.

Rural Chinese who flock to the capital to seek redress for grievances
that local officials ignore already have been sent home, while known
dissidents have been jailed, put under watch or told to leave.

Arbitrary enforcement of rules, long a staple of life in China, is
falling hard on ordinary Chinese. As construction sites are shut down
in July to try clear the city's notorious smog, and small restaurants
closed for being dirty or other unspecified reasons, many of the
city's migrant workers -- who make up more than a fifth of Beijing's
18 million people -- will be left without pay. Many are leaving.

"Temporarily closed for the Olympic period," read the sign on the
Xi'an Cured Meat Buns restaurant, near the Silk Alley market, a
tourism hotspot filled with knockoffs of designer clothes. At the
also-shut Old Sichuan Homestyle restaurant nearby, an employee said
he and his five co-workers were soon leaving for home near Sichuan,
out of money.

"Those of us who don't have licenses all have to close," said Zhao
Jingchun, a plump, middle-aged laid-off factory worker who runs a
small crepe stall to make money.

However, she still planned to flout whatever restrictions there are.
"No matter how strict they are going to enforce the rules, I have to
work. I need to eat."

The tighter visa requirements keeping foreigners out have been
accompanied by recurring police checks on places where foreigners
live and orders for those properly papered to register at local
police stations.

With the city feeling emptier and less lively, those left feel part
of an elaborately staged event meant to show a perfect but unreal
Beijing to the half-million athletes, journalists, dignitaries and
tourists expected to come to the games.
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