Beijing, August 6:
US and British activists staged a dramatic protest in Beijing today, scaling a pole and unfurling giant â€œFree Tibetâ€ banners close to the stadium where the Olympics will open in two days.
Police arrested the four members of the Students for a Free Tibet group after the stunt, the state-run Xinhua news agency said, reporting on the first major protest around the Olympic Village in the run-up to the Games. The two Britons and two Americans raised Tibetan flags and two 140-square-foot banners near Beijingâ€™s iconic â€œBirdâ€™s Nestâ€ stadium, pictures released by the group showed.
The banners, which read â€œOne World, One Dream: Free Tibetâ€ and â€œTibet Will Be Freeâ€, were up for more than an hour before police managed to rip them down, the group said. â€œWe did this action to highlight the Chinese governmentâ€™s use of the Beijing Olympics as a propaganda tool,â€ one of the British protesters, Iain Thom, said in a message recorded while he was unfurling the banner and released on the groupâ€™s website.
The arrested group had still not contacted overseas supporters 12 hours after the action, although it was not known if they were still being detained or had been deported, a US-based spokeswoman said. The protest came despite unprecedented security around Beijing in the run-up to the Games, as China tried to avoid a repeat of protests that dogged the torch relays journey through Europe, the United States and parts of Asia.
Chinaâ€™s Olympic organisers condemned the protest. â€œAs far as we know, four foreigners gathered illegally and we express our strong opposition to that,â€ Sun Weide, a spokesman for the Beijing Olympic organising committee, said. â€œWe firmly oppose any attempt to politicise the Olympic Games.â€
Activists seeking to pressure China over a range of issues have long promised to use the Games to raise awareness of their causes, which range from arrests of dissidents to Internet censorship. Students for a Free Tibet have been relentless campaigners against what they see as Chinese repression in Tibet that has been under Chinese rule since 1951.
In April, they staged a protest at Mount Everest base camp against plans to take the Olympic torch to the mountain and they unfurled a giant banner along the Great Wall of China exactly a year before the opening ceremony.