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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

With one month to go, IOC says it's time for Beijing to deliver on pollution, free press

July 9, 2008

July 8, 2008

BEIJING (AP) -- With the Olympics just a month away, it's time for
China to deliver on promises made seven years ago when the
International Olympic Committee awarded Beijing the games.

That was the message Tuesday from Hein Verbruggen, the senior IOC
official who has guided preparations as China has poured US$40
billion into venues and new infrastructure.

Three major issues loom before the Aug. 8 opening ceremonies:
Beijing's choking air pollution, freedom for journalists to report
the games, and finishing two subway lines and a rail line. Beijing's
31 Olympics venues were completed months ago.

"Preparation time is over,'' said Verbruggen, speaking at the
inauguration of the Main Press Center and International Broadcast
Center. Standing a few meters (yards) away was Liu Qi, secretary of
Beijing's Communist Party and the president of the local organizing committee.

Both men were shrouded in a gray veil of pollution, which skimmed the
ground and limited visibility to a few hundred yards (meters).
Beijing's Environmental Protection Bureau, which says the city has
about 260 "blue-sky days'' annually, rated the air quality as "fair.''

"Now it is operation time,'' Verbruggen said. "And that means we will
have to deliver to all stakeholders - including the media, obviously
- what was pledged.''

The games are supposed to show China's growing economic power and
clout. The last six months have had some PR problems outside China,
but national pride in the games remains strong.

Steven Spielberg dropped out in February as an artistic adviser,
citing Chinese policies in Darfur. In March, rioting in Tibet was
followed by pro-Tibet protests on the torch relay - and pro-China
rallies to counter. On May 12 a deadly earthquake in central China
killed just under 70,000.

Some of this will be soothed if China tops the medal table -
replacing the U.S. - and the impressive venues cloud political
concerns. The subways and rail line are slightly behind schedule, but
should be ready later this month.

Verbruggen described the venues and organization in Beijing as "a
gold standard'' but acknowledged "a very small number of open issues remain.''

"Here in the Chinese capital you can now really sense the excitement
and anticipation,'' he said. "The city feels ready; it looks ready,
with the stunning venues all completed.''

Air pollution is supposed to be cleared up by a temporary, but
draconian plan beginning July 20 which will remove about 2 million
cars from Beijing's streets. The plan also calls for shuttering
dozens of factories and heavy industry in Beijing and a half-dozen
surrounding provinces.

But the most difficult promise to keep for the authoritarian
government may be upholding a pledge made in 2001 allowing as many as
30,000 reporters to work freely as they have in other Olympics.

The IOC and television rights holders such as America's NBC have been
at odds for months with Chinese security officials, fighting to
clarify the rights of satellite trucks to move freely around the city
of 17 million.

Access to spots like Tiananmen Square - who will be allowed in, when
and under what conditions - is also a battleground with Chinese
authorities fearing the iconic site could be used as a TV backdrop by
pro-Tibet protesters or the spiritual movement Falun Gong.

The issues will come to a head again when broadcasters, the IOC and
games organizers meet Wednesday in Beijing. This is a follow-up to a
contentious meeting in May when IOC and broadcast officials
criticized Beijing organizers for bureaucratic delays that could
compromise TV coverage.

"I think this free reporting will be a problem for everyone,'' said
Johannes Hano, East Asia bureau chief of Germany's ZDF television.
Hano had a live interview on the Great Wall stopped last week when
police barged into an interview that was being transmitted back to Germany.

"They will stop you even if you have permission. It will be the
biggest problem. There is no freedom of press as they promised,'' he said.

One of two rights-holding broadcasters for the games in Germany, Hano
said ZDF was sending a "sharp protest letter'' to IOC president
Jacques Rogge, Beijing organizers, the Chinese Foreign Ministry and
the European Broadcasting Union over the incident.

"We are worried this situation will continue and freedom of
journalists will not be guaranteed here,'' Hano said.

Beijing Olympic organizing officials have repeatedly promised that
reporters will be free to do their jobs and cover the Olympics as
they have at previous games.

Manolo Romero, the general manager of Beijing Olympic Broadcasting,
said the issue was on Wednesday's agenda. Known as BOB, the IOC
subsidiary coordinates and provides technical services for the
television networks with rights to broadcast the Olympics, such as NBC.

"This matter is being discussed now with the Beijing organizers,''
Romero said at the inauguration.

China is on the record promising unrestricted coverage. In a 273-page
guide to coverage for the foreign press, the introduction says: "The
Chinese government will honor its commitments in the bid process ...
to provide quality and convenient services to the media in accordance
with international practice and the successful experience from
previous games, so as to satisfy the demands of the media covering
the Olympic Games in China.''

Rocked by protests on international legs of the Olympic torch relay
following the outbreak of deadly rioting in March in Tibet, China
stepped up security everywhere and tightened visa rules.

Chinese officials say terrorism is the biggest threat to the games,
although human-rights groups say the threat is being used to dampen
internal dissent.

China will deploy about 100,000 anti-terrorism police during the
games, with some of the city's 500,000 Olympic volunteers also
serving security roles. Police have already begun bag checks in
Beijing's subway stations, leading some to dub these the "Killjoy Games.''

A blunt reminder of security is visible just 800 meters (a half mile)
from the Bird's Nest National Stadium, where two ground-to-air
missiles are pointed skyward.

In Qingdao, the venue for sailing 560 kilometers (350 miles) from
Beijing, thousands are working to clear an algae bloom that covers
one-third of the sea area where the competition begins on Aug. 9. The
bloom may be caused by pollution, a persistent problem along the
highly industrialized east coast of China.

Rogge, the IOC president, has said some outdoor endurance events
lasting more than an hour will be postponed if the air quality is poor.
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