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Olympic Torch Relays Perfect Stage for Protests, Papers Say

Olympics leaders are to review this week whether the torch relays ahead of the Games should continue given global protests. But the demonstrations, European papers said, are the true expression of freedom.

Chaos struck the Olympic torch relay through Paris

Security officials extinguished the torch four times amid raucous protests in Paris

Beijing Olympic organizers vowed on Tuesday, April 8, that the torch relay would go ahead as planned. Since the flame-lighting ceremony in Athens, Greece, on March 24, numerous protests have disrupted relay festivities in other cities, such as in London and Paris. Activists in San Francisco have vowed to stage even larger demonstrations.

The protests are a response to China's controversial rule of Tibet and a crackdown on anti-Chinese protests there, as well as China's human rights record.

European commentators said the protests during the relays are sending their own important message.

Cologne's daily Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger said the demonstrations in London and Paris set the tone. "Now we know that the torch relay headed to Beijing makes sense and is warranted. It can be used to show support for freedom and peace, which should be a part of the global sporting event.

Delegates attending the National Olympic Committee's General Assembly Executive Board Meeting in Beijing on April 8

The Olympics Committee's Executive Board met in Beijing Tuesday

"It is scandalous to see that sports functionaries -- not only in China, but also in Germany and other counties -- virtually dread the thought of their political responsibility," the paper continued. "Such a stance runs contradictory to the spirit of the Olympic Games. It's an encouraging development when the public does not go along with attempts to obscure the problem, but instead, takes a political stand."

Germany's business daily Handelsblatt noted that "China's Olympic organizers are kidding themselves if they think the torch relay with the Olympic flame is to be a journey of peace around the world. Even the opening ceremonies for the torch at Tiananmen Square in Beijing were anything but harmonious, given the army of security personnel overseeing the event.

The relays across five continents could turn into actual gauntlets for the runners should the protests against China's human rights policies continue," the paper observed. "One should therefore not do China the favor of returning to business as usual. And even if a boycott of the Olympics is out of the question, that does not mean Western politicians should kowtow before the mandarins in Beijing during the opening ceremonies of the Games."

Tibetan youths during protests in India at the end of March

Tibetan youths during protests in India at the end of March

"The Olympic Games are threatening to become the penultimate worst case scenario in press relations for the People's Republic, especially considering they were supposed to demonstrate China's major advancements into the modern age," Vienna's Der Standard quipped. "Demonstrators have plenty of opportunity until August 6 -- the day the Olympic flame is to reach Beijing -- to gain major visibility for their global protests.

"China's ruling system, normally so focused on merciless planning and steely control, does not even seem to grasp what's going on. Almost mechanically, Chinese functionaries refer to the 'Dalai clique' which is supposedly behind the worldwide protests. Beijing has no idea how to deal with citizens or reporters (without borders) who are accustomed to freely expressing their opinions and disrupting sanctimonious events and, in this way, are upholding the true torches of liberty. That that is now so clearly coming to light is the best thing about these Olympic Games."

Police tackle a demonstrator during the Olympic torch relay in London on April 6

Police tackle a demonstrator during the Olympic torch relay in London

Paris's Le Figaro predicted that "…the regime in Beijing will use all the ruckus to draw the reins of its dictatorship even tighter. The people of Tibet will suffer from that, but also all the millions of Chinese who are kept in a permanent state of anxiety and whose nationalism will be stoked as a counter-agent to any outside influence as soon as it presents itself as a danger. In China's eyes, it was not human rights activists who demonstrated on Monday in Paris, but instead, dangerous, uneducated, immoral savages. Enemies of sports, peace and fraternalism. The message has thus been turned around," the paper commented.

Madrid-based El Pais pointed out that "the large number of demonstrators rebut China's claim that the protests are being directed by a few Tibetan separatists. The Olympic Games should not alone be a reflection of modern China. They also present an opportunity for China to show itself to be politically open. Unfortunately, Beijing has gone in the other direction.

"The United States plays a central role in it all, and yet Washington has remained utterly silent about the possibility of an Olympic boycott. One reason is that the US has become inordinately dependent financially on China of late. Financial concerns are Americans' priority now," the paper speculated.

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