Torch relay set to continue but more IOC trouble over Tibet

Other News Materials 9 April 2008 20:56

(dpa) -  Members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said Wednesday that they have ruled out cutting short the protest-plagued international portion of the Olympic torch relay.

But new trouble loomed not only in the form of expected human rights protests in the relay's San Francisco leg later Wednesday.

The Tibet issue has led to a rift within the Olympic Movement with European Olympic Committees angered by the dropping of the word Tibet from a draft for a statement to be released later in the week - a high-ranking source told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

It was, meanwhile, not known whether Tibet was on the agenda when IOC president Jacques Rogge met with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. The IOC only spoke of "a good meeting" after the one-hour talks.

Rogge has not attacked China in public in the wake of its crackdown of the unrest in Tibet and over other human rights issues, saying he prefers to talk directly to the Chinese. He has so far only said he was "concerned" about the situation.

The protests and arrests at the torch relay legs in London and Paris are said to be a topic on Friday for the IOC executive board - but Olympians don't expect the relay to be cut short.

Mario Vazquez Rana, president of the Association of National Olympic Committees, said after sharing dinner Tuesday night with Rogge that the IOC president was "100-per-cent convinced" not to make any changes to the international relay.

IOC vice-president Thomas Bach said he expected "that it will continue" and Swedish executive board member Gunilla Lindbergh also shared this view.

"My opinion is that we have to do exactly what we planned. The torch has to complete its international trip," she told dpa.

The international leg of the torch relay runs until May 3 in Macao. The flame is then carried through China until the August 8 opening ceremony of the Games, including a controversial trip through Tibet and to the summit of Mount Everest.

It is only the second time - following Athens 2004 - that the torch relay has had an international leg. There are considerations within the IOC to hold it only in Greece (where the flame is lit in ancient Olympia) and the host country in the future.

The IOC officially has no right to cancel the relay because it is run by the Beijing organizing committee BOCOG.

BOCOG, dpa was told by IOC and ANOC sources, were behind the controversy around the draft text and enforced a change of the wording in which the word Tibet was dropped.

The statement is due to read: "...Confident that the government of the People's Republic of China should strive to find through dialogue and understanding a fair and reasonable solution to the internal conflicts for the benefit of the Games and the athletes."

The first draft read: "to find through dialogue and understanding a fair and reasonable solution to the internal conflict that affects the Tibet region."

The ANOC chief Vazquez Rana shouldered the blame, telling dpa "that was my mistake" and insisting there was no external pressure. The Mexican said that the original draft was changed because it would interfere with internal Chinese affairs.

According to a high-ranking Olympic official, speaking to Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa on the condition of anonymity, 17 European Olympic Committees have expressed their anger about the changed draft.

The source did not mention which countries protested the new version and only said that the 17 European countries "have decided to insist on this topic."

The draft is due to be discussed Thursday by the ANOC and IOC executive boards. Their joint statement is then to be released after the end of the week's Olympic meetings in the Chinese capital.