. Beijing given carte blanche to crush dissent, critics say (AFP by Patrick Baert
BEIJING, July 13 (AFP) - Critics Friday slammed the Olympics committee for closing its eyes to China's repression of its 1.3 billion people, saying Beijing had just been given carte blanche to act as it liked.

Within hours of the announcement that Beijing had won the right to host the 2008 Games, human rights groups urged the International Olympic Committee and corporate sponsors to ensure China keeps its promises to improve human rights.

"We cant predict what China will look like in 2008, but we know for certain that the Games by themselves are not going to make China less repressive," said Sidney Jones, Asia Director of Human Rights Watch.

"If human rights are to be protected, the private sector is going to have to get engaged."

She said the IOC and big business would be considered complicit if rights abuses take place in China related to the Olympics.

"The Chinese government must prove it is worthy of staging the games by upholding the Olympic spirit of fairplay and extending respect for universal, fundamental, ethical principles to the people of China," echoed Amnesty International in a statement released in London.

But dissidents and activists remained sceptical.

China would "use the economic and publicity benefits of hosting the Olympics to prop up their corrupt regime," said a leading Chinese dissident and former political prisoner Harry Wu in a statement from Washington.

"As a native Chinese, I know that today's decision has made the hearts of the Chinese people swell with pride," he said.

"But in my heart I can only feel caution that the IOC has perhaps made a horrible mistake and I deeply regret that my native land will not have the honor and the reward of hosting the Olympic Games as a free and democratic nation."

Tibet's government-in-exile Friday also condemned the IOC's decision saying the move had given an "international stamp of approval" to China's human rights violations.

"We deeply regret that China is awarded the 2008 Olympic Games," the exiled government's foreign minister, T.C. Thethong said in a statment.

"This will put the stamp of international approval for Beijing's human rights abuses and will encourage China to escalate its repression," said the statement swiftly issued from the government's exiled seat in the northern Indian hill station of Dharamsala.

The Tibetan government led by the spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled its homeland in 1959, nine years after Chinese troops marched into the Himalayan region.

China's most prominent dissident Wei Jingsheng said earlier this week: "It can be seen that human rights in China are deteriorating.

"In such a context, if Beijing is called upon to organize the Olympics, it would be a signal of encouragement to the government to step up its repression."

The human rights issue cost Beijing the 2000 Olympics, which were instead awarded to Sydney in 1993, just four years after the Tiananmen Square massacre of a pro-democracy activists.

Since then, Beijing has done little to soften its tough stand.

A brave bid to set up the country's first opposition party in more than five decades of Communist rule was crushed in 1998, with the leaders sentenced to harsh jail terms.

A year later the Buddhist-inspired religious Falungong group was banned and thousands of its followers have been packed away to labour camps.

"Giving the Games to Beijing could mean prolonging the life expectancy of the regime," said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, director of the Hong Kong-based French Center for Research on Contemporary China.

But Beijing brought in the spin doctors this time to try to nip criticism in the bud, arguing with the help of PR consultants that the 2008 Olympics would help open up the country and contribute to promoting human rights.

"There would be more international attention and China would be in the spotlight," argued Stein Toennesson, the head of the prestigious Peace Research Institute of Oslo.

"I don't think the authorities would be able to resist that kind of pressure imposed over a number of years," he said.

Other observers doubt this however, pointing out that China has already organised arranged several international events without any obvious improvement in rights conditions.

"There won't be any overall impact on human rights," said Cabestan. "If there is improvement, it will be because of pressures from society, and not as a consequences of the Games."