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Protest campaign continues at Olympics; 5 detained

Aug. 15, 2008, 10:42 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) Five foreign activists were deported after they scaled a landmark building in Beijing on Friday to unfurl a "Free Tibet" banner over an Olympics billboard in the latest protest during the games.

Students for a Free Tibet said the protesters - three Americans, a Briton and a Canadian - were detained by police after hanging the banner from the new headquarters of state-owned China Central Television, which is still under construction and is notable for having a shape likened to a twisted "Z."

Britain's Sky News shot footage of the protest, showing the helmeted activists draped in Tibetan nationalist flags and dangling from ropes as they hung the black-and-white banner about 20 feet off the ground. Police quickly took the banner down.

The activists chose the CCTV building because it represents the government's use of state media to spread propaganda, spokesman Kurt Langer said.

"They're trying to whitewash their human rights record and present a pretty picture to the world when, in fact, behind the facade is an ugly reality and the situation in Tibet is as bad as it's been in a very long time," Langer told The Associated Press by phone.

The Beijing Public Security Bureau said in a faxed reply to questions that the protesters had "engaged in activities that violated Chinese law." Police have ordered the activists to leave the country, it said.

The group's campaign director, Kate Woznow, confirmed the five activists were deported later Friday.

It was the latest in a series of protests by activists who have sought to use the Olympic Games to criticize China for alleged repressive rule in Tibet, rights abuses and religious restrictions. Other foreign demonstrators have been quickly deported.

The action came a day after the International Olympic Committee urged China to allow foreign reporters at the games to report freely after a British journalist trying to cover a protest said he was manhandled by police.

Activists have also complained that protest zones designated by Beijing organizers were set up as a way to catch dissidents - not let them speak out. At least one person who applied to hold a demonstration in one of three protest parks was detained by police.

An IOC spokeswoman at a daily briefing was peppered with questions Thursday about a British TV journalist who said he was dragged into a police van the day before while trying to cover an unauthorized protest. Police said they mistook him for a protester.

Spokeswoman Giselle Davies said the committee disapproves of any attempts to hinder journalists and hopes that such incidents will not happen again.

In its bid to win the Olympics, China promised to loosen some aspects of its autocratic rule, including allowing the media to report freely and unblocking restricted Web sites for journalists.

It set up three protest parks - all well away from Olympic venues - in a gesture toward greater free speech.

But China said would-be protesters would have to apply for permission in advance. A week into the Beijing Games, there has been no sign of demonstrations at the parks.

Sporadic flare-ups in other parts of the city suggest the absence of demonstrations is not for lack of dissent.

Wang Wei, vice president of the local organizing committee, suggested Thursday that critics were nitpicking. He called the protest parks "one step further for China to open up."


Associated Press writers Henry Sanderson and Stephen Wade contributed to this report.