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Student tries to show Tibetan flag at Olympics

Aug. 09, 2008, 1:54 a.m. (ET)

HONG KONG (AP) Security officers in Hong Kong removed a university student who tried to display the Tibetan flag during the Olympic equestrian competition Saturday.

Seated in the front row, the student, Christina Chan, displayed a placard bearing the Canadian flag and the Tibetan flag underneath during the dressage portion of the eventing competition at a stadium in Hong Kong's Sha Tin district.

When she tried to peel away the Canadian flag to reveal the Tibetan flag, four or five security officers covered her with a blue cloth and asked her to leave but she refused. Officers carried her out of the venue about half an hour later.

Police spokesman T.K. Ng said Chan - who also protested at the Hong Kong leg of the Olympic torch relay in May - was removed from the venue but not arrested.

Lam Woon-kwong, chief executive of the equestrian event, lashed out at Chan for disrupting the competition and said she would be barred from future events.

"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 said.

"We think her action is very irresponsible, so we don't welcome her to return to this venue to watch any other events," he said.

Chan said that she only wanted to protest peacefully and raise awareness that China had failed to live up to 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.

Organizers said before the equestrian event that the Tibetan flag would be banned under house rules that prohibit the display of national flags of countries not represented at the competition. The rules also prohibit propaganda on banners, clothing or accessories.

TV footage also showed a man wearing a T-shirt that said "democracy and human rights are more important than the Olympics." The man was asked to take off the shirt before entering the venue.

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

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

An opposition lawmaker says 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 of Lhasa in March.

Similar demonstrations were sparked in Tibetan communities throughout western China and a massive crackdown by Chinese security forces ensued. Pro-Tibet groups say scores of monks and nuns have been arrested, imprisoned and beaten since 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.