World

Protesters interrupt ceremony for Beijing Olympics

Two pro-Tibetan demonstrators ran onto the field of Greece's Ancient Olympia stadium on Monday, briefly disrupting the flame-lighting ceremony for the Beijing Olympics.

Two pro-Tibetan demonstrators ran onto the field of Greece's Ancient Olympia stadium on Monday, briefly disrupting the flame-lighting ceremony for the Beijing Olympics.

Shortly after, a Tibetan woman with her face covered in fake blood tried to block the path of a runner carrying the newly lit Olympic torch.

A demonstrator runs behind Liu Qi, the president of the Beijing Games organizing committee, during the Olympic flame-lighting ceremony in Greece on Monday. ((ERT Pool via APTN/Associated Press))

The incidents were the latest public relations blow to Chinese rule in Tibet since anti-government protests in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa turned violent more than a week ago.

The two men were carrying black flags belonging to the Paris-based advocacy group Reporters Without Borders that showed handcuffs in place of the five Olympic rings.

The incident happened while Liu Qi, president of the Beijing Olympics organizing committee and Beijing Communist Party secretary, was giving a speech.

One of the men tried to grab the microphone from Qi, but police quickly pulled him away.

Then later, as teenage torchbearer Haturi Yuuki of Japan approached the village of ancient Olympia, a Tibetan woman covered in red paint or dye lay on the road while other protesters chanted "free Tibet" and "shame on China."

The torchbearer stopped several feet from the protester and ran in place until plainclothes officers arrested the woman. Police also pulled away a man accompanying her who was waving the Tibetan flag.

Three protesters face misdemeanour charges of disrespectful behaviour at a public event. Police say the men were accredited as journalists to attend the event and are being held in the nearby town of Pyrgos.

The flame for the Aug. 8-24 Games was lit using the sun's rays. From Olympia, it will embark on a 136,000-kilometre relay. The torch is to arrive March 31 in Beijing. It then will travel through 20 countries before returning to mainland China.

Beijing said it still intends to run the torch relay through Tibet, which activists there have vowed to protest.

Thousands of Chinese troops and police are trying to maintain order in the Tibetan area after deadly riots.

Protests in the Tibetan capital Lhasa, originally led peacefully by Buddhist monks, turned into rioting on March 14. China has said 22 people died and more than 600 people were injured in the uprisings, which saw dozens of buildings burnt and destroyed.

Tibetan exile groups put the death toll much higher, at 99.

Rogge says human rights improving

Also on Monday, the head of the International Olympic Committee said that awarding the 2008 Games to Beijing has helped to advance the cause of human rights in China.

Jacques Rogge, who was in Greece for the flame-lighting ceremony, said the Games have put China in the limelight and opened its human rights issues up to the world.

"I believe the Games have advanced the agenda of human rights," Rogge said in an interview with the Associated Press. "Is the situation perfect? By no means. Has it improved? I'm saying yes."

He said the current violence in Tibet is an example of how the Games have brought human rights issues in the region to the fore.

"Tibet, rightfully so, is on the front page. But it would not be on the front page if the Games were not being organized in China."

IOC in 'silent diplomacy'

Rogge refused to criticize China for its crackdown on demonstrations there, saying only that he hoped for a peaceful resolution to the crisis. He said he is involved in talks with China regarding human rights, but maintained he won't interfere in the country's internal affairs.

"The IOC is engaged in what I call a 'silent diplomacy' with Chinese authorities since Day 1 of the preparations of the Games," Rogge said.

"We are discussing on a daily basis with Chinese authorities, including discussing these issues, while strictly respecting the sovereignty of China in its affairs."

Rogge said he plans to discuss a "series of points" when he meets with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao during IOC executive board meetings in Beijing next month, but did not explain what exactly would be on the agenda.

"I repeat, we are not a political body, we are not an NGO [non-government organization], but it is our responsibility to make sure the athletes get the best possible Games which they deserve," he said.

With files from the Associated Press