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Chinese and IOC officials again on defensive

Aug. 14, 2008, 11:10 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) Chinese and IOC officials were on the defensive again Thursday in a contentious news conference that centered on press freedom, protests and the choice of China to host the Olympic Games.

It marked the third consecutive day the Olympic briefing turned aggressive, with non-Chinese reporters pressing for clear answers and often asking pointed follow-up questions. Several times in the last few days, reporters have taken the floor without being called on, and many have kept talking even when roving microphones have been taken away.

Midway through Thursday's daily news conference hosted by the International Olympic Committee and Beijing organizers, Alex Thomson of Britain's ITN Channel 4 stood up and asked IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies: "Given that China got these games largely on making promises about human rights and press freedom, and given that the Chinese government has lied through its teeth about keeping those promises, is the IOC in any way embarrassed?"

Davies lauded the sparkling venues, the efficient organization and the sports but failed to satisfy the British reporter, who rephrased the question four more times.

His final attempt brought this: "Well Giselle, we're not getting anywhere are we? Let's try this one more time. Is the IOC embarrassed at the Chinese government not keeping promises on press freedom and human rights?"

The official transcript usually appears on the organizers' Web site in a few hours, but Thursday the heated exchange between Davies and Thomson was several hours late being posted.

China's authoritarian government and the IOC repeatedly have said the games would open the country to social change and stoke breakthroughs on religious freedom and the treatment of the country's minorities. The communist government also has been eager to present a flawless Olympics to the world, downplaying controversies of human rights, air pollution and blocked Internet sites.

Wang Wei, the executive vice president of the organizing committee, sat silently as Davies spoke. The American-educated Chinese usually limits himself to brief responses at the daily briefing, but this time he stepped in after Davies finished with a passionate, 3-minute defense of Beijing, arguing the games are allowing foreigners to see China's three decades of rapid change.

"During the bid I was the secretary general of the bidding committee," said Wang, who attended Rutgers University. "I was confronted with many questions about the opening up and reform of China. And I did say that the Olympic Games coming to China will help China to open up further and to reform."

Wang said millions of Chinese are living better lives, but "of course there are exceptions like in any other country. Some people are not satisfied. That is true."

He said officials welcomed constructive advice.

"I think a few, a very few people, come here to pick, to be critical, to dig into the small details," Wang said. "To find fault. ... That does not mean we are not fulfilling our promise."

"I did not say that China will promise to do whatever with the games coming to China. I did not say that. But I say the games will open up the horizon about China. People will see better for themselves what China is like."

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