Protesters disrupt Olympic equestrian competition

Aug. 09, 2008, 11:19 a.m. (ET)

HONG KONG (AP) Protesters displayed the Tibetan flag and chanted pro-democracy slogans Saturday at an Olympic equestrian event in Hong Kong but were removed and banned from the venue.

A Caucasian man and woman, whom authorities did not immediately identify, unfurled the Tibetan flag among the spectators at the equestrian stadium in Hong Kong's suburban Sha Tin district.

Earlier in the day, university student Christina Chan and another protester tried to unveil a Tibetan flag that was concealed behind a Canadian flag but security officers covered them with a piece of cloth before it was fully exposed.

Radical opposition lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung and a fellow activist held up a piece of paper that said "No dictatorship" and chanted "End one-party rule," referring to the Chinese Communist Party's monopoly on power.

Security officers removed all six protesters. Leung, Chan and their two fellow demonstrators have been banned from the remaining equestrian competitions, event spokesman Mark Pinkstone said. The fate of the two Caucasian protesters was not immediately clear.

Organizers said they violated rules that ban political propaganda and the flags of countries not represented at the competition.

TV footage also showed a man wearing a T-shirt saying "Democracy and human rights are more important than the Olympics." He was asked to remove the shirt before entering the venue.

Several other protesters demanding China abolish the death penalty held a banner near the venue that said "Stop executions."

After Chan's removal from the stadium, the chief executive of the equestrian event lashed out at the Canadian for disrupting the competition, calling her actions "very irresponsible."

"The Olympics happen once every four years. All the athletes prepare very hard for the competition. The audience watch the competition knowing it's a rare occasion. And she deliberately takes actions that violate the rules and disturbed other people," Lam Woon-kwong said.

Chan said she only wanted to protest peacefully and raise awareness that China had failed to keep its promise to improve its human rights record after winning the bid to host the Olympics.

"I don't think I did anything that hurt anyone," she said by telephone after her ejection.

Leung said he has the right to protest and that he acted "for the people."

Equestrian host Hong Kong is usually more tolerant of dissent than mainland China.

A former British colony now ruled by China, Hong Kong is promised Western-style civil liberties commonly denied on the mainland, such as freedom of speech and protest. Still, the local government has apparently tightened controls because of the Olympics.

An opposition lawmaker said three U.S.-based ethnic Chinese democracy activists were turned away at the airport Wednesday.

Tibet has been an extremely sensitive topic since protests against Chinese rule turned violent in the region's capital in March.

Many Tibetans insist they were an independent nation before Communist troops invaded in 1950, while Beijing says the Himalayan region has been part of its territory for centuries.