- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2008

BEIJING (AP) | This capital will set up specially designated zones for protesters during next month’s Olympics, a security official said Wednesday, in a sign that China’s authoritarian government may allow some demonstrations during the games.

Worries about terrorist attacks, both from international groups and Muslim separatists from western China, and protests of any kind have prompted one of China’s broadest security clampdowns in years. The overall effect is that while Beijing looks cheerful, with colorful Olympic banners and new signs, the city feels tense.

Vehicle checkpoints ring Beijing. Visa rules have been tightened to keep out foreign activists. Police have swept Beijing neighborhoods to remove Chinese who have come to the capital to complain about local government misdeeds, and known political critics and underground Christians have been told to leave.

But Liu Shaowu, director for security for the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee, said Wednesday that areas in at least three public parks near outlying sporting venues have been set aside for use by demonstrators.

The remarks were the first public confirmation that Beijing may tolerate a modest amount of protest at an Olympics that the government hoped would be flawless, boosting its popularity at home and China’s image abroad.

“This will allow people to protest without disrupting the Olympics,” said Ni Jianping, director of the Shanghai Institute of American Studies, who lobbied communist leaders to set up the protest zones.

It was not clear how easy access would be to the zones.

A Beijing resident whose restaurant was demolished in the city’s Olympic makeover and who was jailed for trying to organize a protest, Ye Guozhu, was taken from the Chaobai Prison on Tuesday to an unknown location, four days before he was to be released, the monitoring group Chinese Human Rights Defenders said Wednesday.

In approving the protest zones, Mr. Liu said officials noted that Athens set up such areas for the 2004 games. The Salt Lake City Winter Games of 2002 did, too. “We have already designated specific areas where people or protesters who want to express their personal opinions can go to do so,” Mr. Liu said.

Protests have become commonplace in many parts of China in recent years, especially by state industry workers upset about layoffs and farmers angry about land confiscation. But China’s leadership remains wary about demonstrations in the capital or large-scale protests anywhere, fearing they could snowball into widespread anti-government movements.

In a sign of government nervousness, the special protest areas are not near the Olympic Green where most venues and medal ceremonies are concentrated. Instead, they are in outlying parks: the World Park in the southwest, three miles from the softball venue; the Purple Bamboo Park in the west, south of the volleyball arena; and Chaoyang Park in the east, where beach volleyball will be played.

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