Protest interrupts the torchlighting ceremony of the Beijing Games in Greece

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OLD OLYMPIA – Human rights activists unfurled a banner reading “No to genocide games,” waved a Tibetan flag and called for a boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics during the torchlighting ceremony on Monday.

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Two women and a man sneaked through a narrow police cordon and entered the archaeological site of the ancient Greek stadium and temple where the Olympic flame is traditionally lit and had been sealed for days.

They held up a Tibetan flag seconds after the torch was lit by an actress playing the role of high priestess at the Hera Temple, a few meters away.

The three protesters shouted for a boycott of the Games in Beijing, as invited officials, including Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, watched.

The ceremony itself was not interrupted, as had been the case with the 2008 Beijing Summer Games, and the activists, who did not make it to the stadium or the temple, were quickly taken away by the police.

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The Greek Olympic Committee (HOC), in charge of organizing the event, said it was disappointed that the ceremony had been used for political purposes. The IOC, when asked for a comment, referred to the IOC statement.

“The lighting of the Olympic flame represents 3,000 years of Greek history and a commitment to peace and dialogue,” said the HOC.

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“While the HOC respects individual rights to freedom of expression, it is disappointing that this traditional cultural event has been used by some people for other purposes.”

The Chinese capital will become the first city to host the Winter and Summer Games when it hosts the event from February 4 to 20, but protests and calls for a boycott over the country’s human rights record have clouded the run-up.

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The police detained four other activists outside the stadium an hour before the ceremony and took them to the local police station. They have not been charged. Two more were arrested in Athens on Sunday after protesting at the Acropolis monument.

Activists are planning more protests and a press conference on Tuesday when the flame is officially handed over to the organizers of the Beijing Games in Athens.

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“The Olympics cannot address all the challenges of our world,” Bach said in his speech inside the old stadium before the protest.

“But they are an example for a world where everyone respects the same rules and respects each other. They inspire us to solve problems with friendship and solidarity ”.

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Human rights groups and US lawmakers have called on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to postpone the Games and relocate the event unless China ends what the United States considers an ongoing genocide against Uighurs and other Muslim minority groups. .

Chinese authorities have been accused of facilitating forced labor by detaining around one million Uighurs and other mainly Muslim minorities in camps since 2016.

China denies wrongdoing and says it has created vocational training centers to combat extremism.

It was the second time, after the 2008 Beijing Games, that the torch lighting ceremony was interrupted by protests from human rights activists, who broke into that ceremony and repeatedly interrupted the international torch relay that followed.

“Under the strong leadership of the Chinese government … we can and will deliver an optimized, safe and splendid Olympic Games to the world,” said Beijing Games Vice President Yu Zaiqing.

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Reference-torontosun.com

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