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Free Speech Still a Top Issue on Last Day of Olympics         


As the Olympics winds down, the issue of free speech is still very much in the news headlines. In the latest development, the U.S. embassy is calling for the immediate release of eight American pro-Tibet demonstrators, who are in Chinese custody. Stephanie Ho reports from Beijing.

There have been a handful of small-scale, unauthorized pro-Tibet demonstrations before and during the Olympics. At first, Chinese authorities detained and then quickly deported the foreign activists responsible.

This week marked a change in tactics, as Chinese authorities detained eight Americans, in two separate pro-Tibet incidents, on Wednesday and Thursday.

U.S. embassy spokeswoman Susan Stevenson says the Olympics should have been an opportunity for China to allow more free speech.

"We are disappointed that China has not used the occasion of the Olympics to demonstrate greater tolerance and openness," she said.

The U.S. Ambassador to China, Clark Randt, is calling for the immediate release of the eight Americans. An embassy statement says he has been raising concerns over their cases to "senior levels of the Chinese government."

Jonathan Watts, the president of the Foreign Correspondents Club in China, says there is a stark contrast between perceptions inside and outside the Olympic venues.

"Inside the stadiums, things have gone very, very well. Reporters seem very pleased with the number of press conferences that were held and the degree of access they had to officials. However, outside the stadiums, we have confirmed more than 30 cases of reporting interference, heard of another 20," said Watts.

And, although the Chinese government designated three Beijing parks for protests during the Olympics, it did not approve even one of the 77 protest applications it received.

The chairman of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, was asked about this issue at the end of the Olympics news conference Sunday.

"There is a fact that there were 77 applications, that's what we have been told. We found it unusual that none of these applications have come through with protest," said Rogge.

Rogge said Chinese authorities told the IOC that the questions raised by most of the protest applicants had been met, with what he called "mutual agreement."

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