Protest at torch lighting censored in China

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NEW YORK -- The millions of Chinese who tuned in for Monday's lighting of the Olympic torch saw a sanitized version of the event as China Central Television cut away from a protest for press freedom.

Observers in China watching CCTV said they were not shown footage of members of the French group Reporters Without Borders unfurl a banner during a speech by Liu Qi, president of the Beijing Organizing Committee, in Olympia, Greece.

Greek television carried a live broadcast of the brief incident, which took place in front of International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge and thousands of spectators at an event protected by more than 1,000 police officers.

CCTV, the host broadcaster for the Beijing Games, cut away from the protest and showed a prerecorded scene, preventing Chinese viewers from seeing the protest. Chinese television commentators did not mention the demonstration.

Greek police arrested three members of the activist group. They were detained and face possible criminal charges for evading security, breaking into the ceremony's ancient grounds and flashing a black banner depicting the games' trademark Olympic rings as handcuffs.

"We cannot let the Chinese government seize the Olympic flame, a symbol of peace, without denouncing the dramatic situation of human rights in the country," the French group said.

Since March 10, China has cracked down on protests by Tibetans that have drawn attention to their long struggle against Chinese rule. The protests turned violent March 14, and all foreigners have been ejected from Tibet, an area the size of France.

IOC president Rogge told the Associated Press that there was no credible momentum for a boycott and, while he was concerned by the violence in Tibet, the IOC could do no more than call for a peaceful resolution because it is a sports organization.

Rogge said he was engaged in "silent diplomacy" with China on Tibet and other human rights issues and would meet Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in April.

Meanwhile, Chinese film star Zhang Ziyi ("Memoirs of a Geisha," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") attended the ceremony as a guest of the Greek Olympic Committee and a special journalist for the 2008 Beijing Games' official Web site.

Press photos of the event showed Charles Zhang Chaoyang, CEO of Nasdaq listed Sohu.com, recording the torch lighting event with a video camera. Sohu is a Beijing Games partner and produces the official Beijing Olympics Web site.

The actress' blog and the popular Web portal made no mention of the incident.

Meanwhile, China has pledged strict security measures to ensure that the torch relay, which begins with the lighting ceremony, is not marred by protests.

From Olympia, the flame will embark on an 85,000-mile journey. It will arrive in Beijing on March 31, then travel through 20 countries before returning to China and passing through the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, on June 20-21.

New York-based Human Rights Watch on Monday called for a reopening of Tibet.

"Either Tibet is open or it's not. If it is, let independent monitors and the media go there. If it's not, the torch shouldn't go there either," said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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