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China marks 100 days to Olympics amid Tibet, torch troubles PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 May 2008

Agency

A display of rings attracts the attention of flag waving participants at a walkathon in BeijingChina hailed the 100-day countdown to the Beijing Olympics on Wednesday, but simmering controversies over Tibet and the torch relay, as well as heavy pollution, cast a shadow over the milestone.

Activities to mark the day included a fun run involving thousands of people near key Olympic venues in the north of the capital while speakers blared the unofficial theme song of Games preparations, "We Are Ready".

As if to illustrate the clouds over the August 8-24 Olympics, the runners set off under a pall of smog, which some elite athletes have identified as a health threat that may stop them competing.

Earlier, state press reported that police in northwestern China had Monday shot and killed an ethnic Tibetan suspected of inciting anti-China protests in March.

It was the first official admission that police had killed a Tibetan in the unrest that has flared across the Tibetan plateau, embarrassing and angering China's communist rulers ahead of the Olympics.

Tibet's government-in-exile says more than 200 people have been killed in a Chinese crackdown in the Himalayan region, while before Wednesday China had so far insisted the only deaths were 20 people killed by Tibetan "rioters".

Meanwhile the Olympic torch returned to Chinese soil in Hong Kong, after a worldwide relay that has been marred by protests by critics of China's control of Tibet and clashes between protesters and Chinese supporters.

Demonstrations are expected in Hong Kong, which has freedom of expression laws, during Friday's relay, and authorities have stoked fears of a clampdown by barring some activists from entering the city.

American actress Mia Farrow, who is pushing China to help stop violence in Sudan's conflict-riven Darfur region, is also expected.

A lengthy relay through China looks set to provide its share of controversy too, amid plans to take the flame through simmering Tibet and heavily Muslim Xinjiang, where Chinese control also is widely resented.

Beijing has been praised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for its 37 Games venues, which will host 28 medal sports, and other physical preparations. But China has come under fire for allegedly falling short on promises made to help secure the Games, including vows to improve human rights, stage a "green Games", and loosen restrictions on foreign media.

Earlier in April it jailed high-profile dissident Hu Jia, a case that activists say highlighted a campaign of official harassment and detentions aimed at silencing critics of its human rights record during the Games.

Meanwhile, the capital has been wrapped in smog for much of the past few weeks. China is vowing clean skies in August, but the IOC has said some distance events may have to be postponed if the air is a threat, and last month marathon world record holder Haile Gebrselassie ruled himself out of the Beijing race partly on health grounds.

Media groups also have taken aim at Chinese press restrictions imposed amid the Tibetan unrest and a government campaign to blame pre-Olympic troubles on the foreign media.

"If allowed to continue, the reporting interference and hate campaigns targeting international media may poison the pre-Games atmosphere for foreign journalists," the Foreign Correspondents Club of China said in a statement Wednesday.

In an editorial Wednesday, the China Daily newspaper vowed the decision to award the Games to China would be vindicated. "(Beijingers) want to tell the world that their rationale for bidding for the Games in 2001 was sound then, and remains sound today," it said.

Meanwhile, Beijing's newly installed Roman Catholic bishop, Joseph Li Shan, appealed for divine intervention in a special 100-day countdown service at a church in the capital. "Brothers and sisters, let us take this Mass to express our sacrifice, our prayers, and our wish for a peaceful Olympics to our God. May God help us," he said.

Many analysts expect the Fed to cut the rate another quarter-point to 2.0 percent as insurance against a deep and prolonged downturn, and possibly signal a pause to assess the impact of its earlier cuts.

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