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Report: 77 applications for Olympic protests

Aug. 18, 2008, 2:37 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) Chinese authorities have received 77 applications from people who want to hold protests in designated demonstration areas during the Beijing Olympics, state media said Monday, the first details of the response to the plan since the games began.

There have been no protests in the three parks set aside as special zones for a type of dissent that is usually banned in China but which Beijing said it would allow as long as tight regulations are followed.

The official Xinhua News Agency said the 77 applications submitted since Aug. 1 involved 149 people, including three people from overseas.

The two-line Xinhua report did not say whether any had been approved or give any other details. A woman who answered the telephone at the spokesman's office of the Public Security Bureau would not comment on the report.

Human rights groups and families of some people who have applied for permits to protest in the parks say they were taken away afterward by security agents, prompting critics to accuse officials of using the plan as a trap to draw potential protesters to their attention.

In July, China said protests would be allowed during the Olympics in three parks far away from the main venues. Applications must be filed five days in advance and a response would be provided 48 hours before the requested protest time, officials said.

Liu Shaowu, the Beijing Olympics' security chief, also warned that protests must not harm "national, social and collective interests."

There have been no apparent demonstrations in the areas since the Aug. 8 start of the games, though small unregulated protests have occurred in other places in the city. Most have been conducted by foreigners who unfurled "Free Tibet" banners and were quickly deported.

Protests have become common in China - from workers upset about factory layoffs to farmers angry about land confiscation - but the Communist leadership remains wary of large demonstrations, fearing they could snowball into anti-government movements.

The sensitivity is even more marked during the Olympics, which China hopes will showcase the country as a modern world power.