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China Resists Human Rights Link to Olympics


China hosts its first-ever Olympic Games, in just five months. In Beijing, people are working hard to clean up the city and to get ready to host the world's most prestigious sporting event. The city has undergone enormous changes in the seven-year build-up to the event, but human rights activists say the government has failed to live up to some Olympic promises. Sam Beattie reports.

When the weekend comes, traffic slows to a crawl in the Olympic neighborhood.

Tourists line the roadsides and joust for the best positions to pose for pictures in front of the National Stadium.

The stadium has been dubbed the "Bird's Nest," because of its shape. For many Chinese, it is a symbol of their country's development.

"The architecture, itself, is not significant, but China holding the Olympics in 2008 shows the rise of China and will expose the whole world to 5,000 years of our culture," explained Beijing Vice Mayor Chen Gang. Chen says China will spend around $1.8 billion to host the Olympics. Construction is complete at 30 of 31 venues needed for competition. Only the National Stadium has as yet to be completed.

In advance of the games, the $486-million "Birds Nest" has become an iconic image at the heart of an official public relations campaign. Chinese officials say the design stresses the need for a harmonious society and the importance of the Olympics to the country.

But the official campaign has not convinced everyone. Ai Weiwei is a contemporary Chinese artist who helped design the stadium and who is critical of the governments attempts to cover over China's shortcomings.

"To send out wrong signals to themselves and to the world that we are in such a cheerful mood or time, which we are not," Ai said. "If you look at China, at the newspapers each day, you find tremendous problems."

Those problems include allegations of human rights abuse and media censorship. The media freedom group Reporters Without Borders says China has jailed 51 Internet dissidents - more than any other country - and last year blocked more than 2500 Web sites.

Recent rioting in Tibetan areas of China and the ensuing government crackdown has drawn international criticism and even threats of boycotting the Olympics opening ceremony.

Corinna-Barbara Francis, of Amnesty International, says China was only too happy to link human rights reform to the Olympics, when it was trying to win the Olympic bid in 2001. She says it is now time to deliver on the promises.

"We still hope for the Chinese government to bring improvements that will then show the world it was a good gamble," she said. "It has been many years and we still have not seen improvements. It's quite urgent, at this point, that the Chinese government bring some improvements before the games."

China has made efforts to distance its human rights issues and international policies from its Olympic hosting duties.

Any questions about the country's human rights record and its Olympic promises draw variations of the same standard response from the foreign ministry. One spokesman reiterates the official position.

"The Chinese government position on this issue is very clear," he noted. "It opposes the politicization of the Olympics, because this counters the spirit and principles of the Olympic Games. The international community should oppose acts which obstruct the Olympic Games."

Beijing has just five months left - not only to ready itself for the athletes, but also to prepare for the intense scrutiny it will be under when an expected 20,000 journalists come to China to report on the world's largest sporting event.

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