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AFP: Olympic chief says committee won China rights reforms



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AFP: Olympic chief says committee won China rights reforms


13 hours ago

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AFP) — The International Olympic Committee (IOC) persuaded China to pass new laws on sensitive rights and environment issues ahead of the Beijing games, its head Jacques Rogge told AFP.

The Belgian president of the IOC outlined the "quiet diplomacy" it waged with China, which he said led to three new bills to protect child labourers, media rights and the environment.

Another measure secured compensation for residents made homeless to make way for the games, he said, during an exclusive interview in the IOC's Swiss home city of Lausanne.

"We carried out the only kind of diplomacy that works in China -- silent diplomacy," Rogge said.

"I could have earned instant popularity by mounting the barricades and rebuking (China). But it wouldn't have achieved anything."

Instead, "we obtained a new law on the media which is perhaps not perfect, but is a remarkable step forward for China," he said.

"For the first time, foreign media will be able to report freely and publish their work freely in China. There will be no censorship on the Internet."

He also said the IOC made progress on the sensitive issue of child labour.

"We realised that there were abuses in the factories making mascots and material for BOCOG (the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad).

"The Chinese reacted very well. They arrested those responsible and had a new law passed," he said.

"The third thing was to obtain proper compensation for people dispossessed by the Olympic building projects. The fourth was new legislation for protecting the environment. On these four points we achieved satisfaction."

Beijing's air quality is routinely rated among the worst in the world by international agencies such as the United Nations and the World Bank -- a major concern for the IOC and some athletes.

Beijing plans to ban around half the city's three-million-plus cars from the roads during the Games, while some factories will be closed down and construction work ordered to halt.

Rights groups such as Amnesty International meanwhile have raised concerns over alleged human rights abuses in China, and the Olympic torch relay met sometimes violent protests against Chinese rule in Tibet, including chaotic scenes in London and Paris in April.

Rogge said he expressed regret to the Chinese authorities for the violence that marred parts of the relay.

"We must not humiliate China," he said, citing the view of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. "That's exactly our attitude."

"We'll see how it all works," he added, referring to the four guarantees given by China. "If things are not perfect, we will do everything to convince the Chinese to fix it. But we have received very strong assurances."

A Chinese crackdown against peaceful protests in Tibet in March sparked international outrage and led to speculation that some world leaders might shun the games.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy threatened to boycott the Olympic opening gala, but later confirmed that he would attend.

The IOC last month told China to draw a line between sports and politics, after a Communist party official lashed out at pro-independence sentiment in Tibet by calling for government opponents to be "smashed" to protect the games.

But Rogge insisted that "at no point" did the pro-Tibet protests affect the IOC's relations with the Chinese, expressing confidence that protests would not disrupt the games.

"I think there will be continued discussion (of Tibet) in the media," Rogge said. "But I think that when the games start, the sporting performances will take centre stage."

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AFP: Rogge upbeat over Beijing Games' green legacy


7 hours ago

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AFP) — Olympic president Jacques Rogge believes pollution-cutting measures for next month's Games will leave a lasting legacy in China's fight against environmental meltdown.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) have placed stringent controls on Beijing in the run up to August's sporting gala, prompting the Chinese government to take sweeping measures to cut pollution.

Earlier this month companies were ordered to stagger or shorten working hours in a bid to improve poor air quality and traffic gridlock.

Beijing, often rated as having one of the worst pollution problems in the world by agencies such as the United Nations and the World Bank, has spent 16 billion dollars over the past decade on improving the environment.

The government has slapped a ban on around one million cars in the capital city, which will take effect on July 20, just weeks before the opening ceremony on August 8.

"We asked the Chinese authorities for guarantees (on pollution) and they passed new legislation for environmental protection," says Rogge.

"It was a real structural effort for the long term. The Chinese are making durable efforts, planting a million trees between Beijing and the Gobi desert.

"They have turned coal-powered factories into factories using gas, closing the most polluting ones."

He added: "They are making giant efforts in water treatment, banning cars that don't respect the environment. These are measures which are going to remain after the Games."

Rogge said that indoor and short-course events had been given the pollution green-light, but he echoed a warning he made last year saying that some endurance events may be postponed if air quality fails to meet standards.

"Studies by our medical commission have shown that there will be no pollution problems with indoor sports and for events of less than an hour," he said.

"It's true there are potential risks for some events of more than an hour, such as the marathon and road cycling, but not football or tennis."

Marathon world record holder Haile Gebrselassie has said he will not compete in the event due to air quality problems, preferring instead to go for gold in the 10,000m.

Britain's women's world marathon record holder Paula Radcliffe recently expressed her fears that pollution in the Chinese capital may exacerbate her asthma.

"It might not even be as bad as everyone thinks because I'm sure the Chinese will do everything they can to reduce the problem," said Radcliffe who - if she recovers from injury - may wear a special breathing apparatus while training in China.

But Rogge insisted that tests carried out last year showed that air quality levels were within limits set by the International Health Organization (IHO), adding that events will be rescheduled if pollution is too high.

"If it were to happen, we would defer the competition to another day."

Rogge, whose mandate finishes next year, was positive that Beijing is on course to meet the IOC's pollution-cutting targets.

"We are on the home bend. We have just sent a team for the last inspection. The head of the coordination committee, Hein Verbruggen, has said he is satisfied.

"There is still hard work to do, but that hard work will continue until the closing ceremony."
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