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Small pro-Tibet protest held in Tiananmen Square

Aug. 09, 2008, 8:06 p.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) Activists breached heavy security in Tiananmen Square for a protest at the Olympics but were confronted by angry Chinese onlookers as they wrapped themselves in Tibetan flags and spoke about freedom in the Himalayan region.

The five members of Students for a Free Tibet clasped each others' hands and walked around the square around noon Saturday, chanting "Freedom for Tibet," and "One World, One Dream, Free Tibet" - a play off a Beijing Olympics motto, according to video footage shot by Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

The protesters - three American, a Canadian and a German - "were calling for an end to the Chinese government's occupation in Tibet," said Lhadon Tethong, executive director of the New York-based group.

While the demonstration was initially regarded with curiosity by onlookers, a group of young Chinese men suddenly started shouting "Get out! Get out!" and surrounded the foreigners, the CBC footage showed. Some wore red and yellow headbands, China's national colors.

They eventually were separated from the protesters by men who appeared to be plainclothes security agents and were led away, said John Hocevar, a member of activist group who videotaped the protest. He said he did not know where they were taken.

Officials at the Beijing Public Security Bureau and Tiananmen Square police station would not comment.

Confrontation over what is perceived as an insult to national pride by Chinese has become more common in recent months after protests by pro-Tibet groups and others during this spring's overseas Olympic torch relay.

Pro-Tibet activists around the world have staged demonstrations in the run-up to the Summer Games, claiming China is using the sporting event to legitimize its rule in Tibet. Activists managed to hold a handful of small protests in Beijing in the days immediately before the games started on Friday, before being grabbed by security officers.

Chinese nationalists urged boycotts of French products after the Paris leg of the torch relay was besieged by protests. There were also demonstrations outside French-owned Carrefour outlets in Chinese cities.

Tibet has been an extremely sensitive topic since protests against almost 50 years of Chinese rule turned violent in the region's capital of Lhasa 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.

Also Saturday, two American 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.

The pair, whom Students for a Free Tibet identified as Matthew Browner-Hamlin, 26, of Anchorage, Alaska, and Brianna Cotter, 27, of San Francisco, California, unfurled the Tibetan flag among the spectators at the equestrian stadium in Hong Kong's suburban Sha Tin district.

Earlier in the day, Hong Kong 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.

Last week, Students for a Free Tibet held similar small protests, where they displayed Tibetan flags and hung pro-Tibet banners near the National Stadium, a key Olympics venue. Seven were deported to Europe and the United States.

Tethong said four of Saturday's activists wrapped themselves in the Tibetan national snow lion flag, which is banned in China, and lay down in the south section of Tiananmen Square that is overlooked by the famous portrait of Mao Zedong - Communist China's founding leader.

Tethong identified Saturday's activists as Chris Schwartz of Montreal, Canada; Diane Gatterdam, Evan Silverman and Joan Roney from New York; and David Demes of Germany.


Associated Press writers Dikky Sinn in Beijing and Min Lee in Hong Kong contributed to this report.