US, UK activists protest under Olympic spotlight

BEIJING (AP) – Activists from the U.S. and U.K. unfurled pro-Tibet banners and spoke out against China’s rights record in Tiananmen Square on Wednesday in the first attempts by foreigners in the Chinese capital to stage protests under the spotlight of the Olympic Games.

All of the groups had run-ins with Chinese authorities, who are determined to make sure the Beijing Olympics go off without a hitch and become an international showcase for the country.

No arrests were reported despite the rare displays of dissent in the capital, where normally stringent controls over criticism of the government have been tightened even further for the 17-day Olympic competition.

Four foreign activists were led away by police after they hung pro-Tibet banners outside Beijing’s National Stadium, where Friday’s opening ceremony will be held.

Two men from Students for a Free Tibet each climbed an electrical pole in front of the so-called Bird’s Nest and put up the banners at dawn, said Lhadon Tethong, the New York-based group’s executive director. The other two _ a man and a woman _ provided support from the base of the poles, she said.

One of the banners said “Tibet will be free” and “Tibet Freedom” in Chinese. The other said “One World, One Dream” _ the slogan for the Beijing Olympics _ followed by “Free Tibet.” One of the men also flew the flag of the Dalai Lama’s exiled Tibetan government.

The group identified the protesters as Iain Thom, 24, of Scotland; Lucy Marion, 23, of England; Phill Bartell, 34, of Bridgewater, New Jersey; and Tirian Mink, 32, of Portland, Oregon.

It was the first such demonstration at a games venue. Beijing organizers condemned the protest.

“We express our strong opposition,” said Sun Weide, spokesman for the Beijing Olympics organizing committee. “In terms of assembly and demonstrations, China has related laws and regulations. We hope that foreigners will respect the related Chinese laws and regulations.”

Sun said the demonstrators were “persuaded to leave” by police, who received tips from local residents about the protest. The four have not been arrested or taken to a police station, he said.