Tuesday, April 1, 2008

IOC wants Beijing to open Internet during Olympics

BEIJING (AP) — The Internet must be open during the Beijing

That was the message a top-ranking International Olympic
Committee official delivered Tuesday to Beijing organizers during
the first of three days of meetings — the last official sessions
between IOC inspectors and the Chinese hosts before the games begin
in just over four months.

Beijing routinely blocks Chinese access to some foreign news Web
sites and blogs, a practice it has stepped up since rioting broke
out over two weeks ago in Tibet.

Kevan Gosper, vice chairman of the IOC coordinating commission,
said restricting access to the Internet during the games “would
reflect very poorly” on the host nation.

“This morning we discussed and insisted again,” Gosper
said. “Our concern is that the press (should be) able to operate as it
has at previous games.”

Gosper said the Chinese had an obligation under the “host city
agreement” to provide Internet access to the 30,000 accredited and
non-accredited journalists expected to attend.

“There was some criticism that the Internet closed down during
events relating to Tibet in previous weeks,” Gosper said.

Laws that lifted most restrictions on foreign media went into
effect Jan. 1, 2007. The rules are to expire in October.

“I’m satisfied that the Chinese understand the need for this
and they will do it,” Gosper added.

When asked about Gosper’s comments, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman
Jiang Yu said China’s “management” of the Internet followed the
“general practice of the international community.”

She acknowledged that China bans some Internet content, and said
other countries did the same. She declined to say if the Internet
would be unrestricted for journalists during the Olympics.

Gosper spoke after Hein Verbruggen, chairman of the inspection
committee, addressed his Chinese hosts. Without being specific,
Verbruggen noted that China’s Aug. 8-24 Games had become embroiled
in controversy.

The unrest in Tibet — and China’s response — has heightened
calls for a boycott or a partial boycott of the games. This comes
in the wake of worries over Beijing’s polluted air, and calls for
China to increase pressure on Sudan to end fighting in Darfur.

The Darfur issue prompted Hollywood director Steven Spielberg to
step down as an artistic adviser for the opening and closing

The torch relay left Beijing on Tuesday for Kazakhstan and a
monthlong global tour. Protests are likely at an event Chinese
organizers hoped would generate positive images of the country.

“Clearly in recent times more than ever, the Beijing Games are
being drawn into issues that do not necessarily have a link with
the operation of the games,” Verbruggen said. “We’re all aware
the international community is discussing these topics, but it is
important to remember that our main focus during these meetings is
the successful delivery of the games operations.”

The IOC has refused to speak out against China’s actions in
Tibet, saying it is a sporting body, not a political one. It has
maintained the Beijing Olympics “are a force for good” in opening
up the country.

Liu Qi, president of the organizing committee, told Verbruggen
the preparations were in the “final stage” but suggested the
hosts would not let up.

“There’s a saying in China that if you want to walk 100 steps —
though you have walked 90 — you have finished only half the
journey. We still have 10 steps left, and those 10 are very
critical to the whole journey.”

The People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper,
warned in an editorial Tuesday that troubles lie ahead in the four
months before the games.

“With the opening of the games approaching, the burden on our
shoulders is heavier and the task tougher,” it said. “We must
keep a clear head, improving our awareness of the potential
dangers, and bravely facing all the difficulties and challenges.”

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