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Darfur Activists Petition Chinese Embassy

American speedskater and Olympic gold medalist Joey Cheek joined other activists on Thursday to make a house call at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C. Their reason: China's economic support of Sudan and the ongoing violence in the Darfur region. As VOA's Robert Raffaele explains, the visit came as the U.N. Security Council considered a revised resolution about a peacekeeping force for Darfur.

American Gold medalist Joey Cheek had a long wait ahead of him when he showed up at the Chinese Embassy. "May I bring myself and a Darfuri citizen with me," he asked. "I don't want anybody else to come here," is the reply from the intercom.

More than 35 minutes after that exchange, Cheek entered the embassy with a petition signed by some 47,000 people.

Activists want Beijing to push the Sudanese government to do more to stop the bloodshed in Darfur. More than 200,000 people have died there, and two million have been left homeless, since 2003 when rebels and government-backed militias began fighting.

China is a major buyer of Khartoum's oil and it supplies arms to Sudan's military. Beijing is accused of resisting U.N. sanctions against Khartoum to maintain access to Sudan's oil. China denies the charge.

After meeting with Chinese embassy representatives in Washington, Cheek said little has changed since he and other activists visited Darfur seven months ago.

"We were committed that there would be action taken, and there was a bit of action, but now seven months later, people are still dying, there are thousands dying, the aid groups have decreased their presence on the ground from last year and it appears financially that the connection is only stronger," said Cheek.

In June, Sudanese officials finally agreed on a U.N. plan to allow thousands of peacekeepers into Darfur to relieve overwhelmed African Union troops. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council issued a revised draft resolution for a peacekeeping force, that drops the threat of sanctions if Khartoum refuses to allow an extended mission. China said the revised version is better than a previous version, but is still not perfect.

Cheek says Beijing's relationship with Khartoum -- and the increasing international focus on Darfur -- gives China a unique opportunity

"I think it gives China the opportunity to do something that no one else in the world is able to do. It gives, if nothing else, them a chance to show that they truly are the power in the world that they are aspiring to be, and that they could pull off something that the West couldn't."

Embassy officials in Washington would not comment on Thursday's protest.