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Protesters Accuse China of Abusing Human Rights

Human rights campaigners have created their own Olympic flame relay. The goal of the Human Rights Torch Relay is to shine a spotlight on alleged human rights abuses in China. The flame left Athens in August and, after running through 17 countries, it came to London for the final European leg. Protesters say they want China to free all prisoners of conscience before the Olympics in August 2008. VOA's Mandy Clark reports from London.

It had all the fanfare and symbolism associated with the Olympics. But this ceremony was far from a celebration of Beijing's upcoming games. Instead, protesters set-up a global torch relay to highlight China's alleged human rights abuses.

They claim China is cracking down on religious organizations and torturing prisoners of conscience.

Brian Coleman is a politician in the London Assembly. He says if the games were to go ahead in China, it would be a mockery of the Olympic spirit. "I call on all those politicians that are invited to all those expensive free trips next year, to send the tickets back to the Chinese Embassy with a note that they will only step foot in China when it is an open, democratic and free society."

Annie Yang says she was sent to a labor camp in China because she is a follower of the Falun Gong spiritual movement. She says she was denied sufficient food and water and was forced to sit rigidly for 20 hours a day. "They took all our basic human rights away. Last month, one practitioner I met in the labor camp, she died there. Even last week, the people went to my parents home and (are) still searching (for) me."

Chinese government officials were not available to comment on these accusations. China banned Falun Gong in 1999.

Protesters say the human rights flame was inspired by the Olympic games themselves. The Olympic Charter states it wants to encourage "the establishment of a peaceful society concerned with preservation of human dignity."

The protesters say if they can shine a spotlight on China's alleged abuses, Beijing might make human dignity the priority of the 2008 Olympics.

The march ended with a candle-lit vigil outside the Chinese Embassy. The flame now heads to Australia, South and North America, before ending in Asia by August 2008, right before the Beijing Olympic games are due to start.