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April 10, 2008

IOC Now Making the Beijing Olympics a Political and Social Matter

NY TIMES

BEIJING — The president of the International Olympic Committee,Jacques Rogge, offered a rare rebuke to the Chinese government on Thursday, calling on the authorities to respect its “moral engagement” to improve human rights and to provide the news media with greater access to the country ahead of the Beijing Games.

Mr. Rogge’s comments on China, made at a news conference here during which he described the protests that have dogged the torch relay as a “crisis” for the organization, were a departure from his previous statements that strenuously avoided any mention of politics.

The Chinese government immediately rejected Mr. Rogge’s remarks, saying they amounted to an unwelcome meddling in the country’s domestic affairs. “I believe I.O.C. officials support the Beijing Olympics and adherence to the Olympic charter of not bringing in any irrelevant political factors,” Jiang Yu, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, told reporters.

Despite the crisis, Mr. Rogge insisted that the skirmishes in London, Paris and San Francisco would not derail the six-continent pageant leading up to the Beijing Games in August.

“There is no scenario of interrupting or bringing the torch back to Beijing,” he said.

The chaos that has interrupted the torch relay and rattled the International Olympic Committee came as the authorities here announced the discovery of what they described as a plan by terrorists from the country’s restive Xinjiang region to disrupt the games by kidnapping foreign journalists, athletes and spectators at the Summer Games.

The authorities said they arrested 35 people and confiscated explosives and detonators belonging to a jihadist group based in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, in the country’s far west, long a source of unrest among the region’s majority Muslim population.
In the past, officials have announced the discovery of similar plots without providing much evidence, including what they said last month was a plan to hijack an airplane. Some analysts have suggested that such crackdowns have been used as a distraction from internal unrest and a means to justify the suppression of separatist Muslim Uighurs.

Speaking before a two-day meeting of the Olympic committee’s executive board, Mr. Rogge condemned the protesters who had hounded torch bearers, but he also called on the Chinese authorities to honor their pledges to improve human rights and to give foreign journalists unfettered access to all parts of the country.

“We will do our best to have this be realized,” he said of a recent Chinese regulation that guarantees reporters the right to travel to all parts of the country, including Tibet, where access has been restricted since the outbreak of violence last month.

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