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IN THE NEWS - Countdown to 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing

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This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. On Wednesday, China celebrated the one-year mark until the start of the two thousand eight Summer Olympic Games in Beijing.

The celebration included sporting events and ceremonies across China. The Chinese government has spent tens of billions of dollars on transportation and buildings to prepare for the Olympic Games.

Pollution in the air in Beijing one year before the opening of the 2008 Olympic Games.
Pollution in the air in Beijing one year before the opening of the 2008 Olympic Games.

But not everyone is celebrating. China is being criticized for failing to honor promises to improve human rights and press freedom before the games. The international media rights group Reporters Without Borders is among those criticizing China. The group says China told Olympic officials six years ago that it would improve its human rights record. But the group says about one hundred reporters and dissidents who use the Internet remain in prison. The group says thousands of other dissidents are jailed and executed in public every year.

Reporters Without Borders held a protest Monday near the Olympic headquarters in Beijing. Chinese police detained about twelve foreign reporters covering the event. They were later released.

Chinese Olympic officials have answered the criticism saying the games should not be politicized. This year a new media law went into effect in China. The law gives foreign media freedom to report throughout China until the end of the Olympics, without government interference. Officials with the Organizing Committee for the Beijing Olympics say China welcomes critical voices in the media.

But China's actions do not support that claim. Officials keep tight control on the national media. They block foreign Web sites and broadcasts critical of the government. VOA's Web sites and broadcasts are often blocked in China.

Some American lawmakers and activist groups have proposed legislation calling for a boycott of the Olympics unless China improves its human rights situation.

China is facing criticism in other areas as well. Some Olympic sports teams have expressed concern about the effect China's air pollution will have on their athletes' health.

The president of the International Olympic Committee admitted that air pollution in Beijing could force delays of some outdoor events. Jacques Rogge said Wednesday that postponements were a possibility for some sports that continue for several hours, such as cycling.

Beijing is one of the most polluted cities in the world. But Chinese officials have said the country is doing everything it can to make sure the ten thousand athletes will be able to compete in clean air.

And there is still another issue. An activist group called Olympic Dream for Darfur is urging China to use its economic and political ties with Sudan to do more to end the violence in Darfur. China is Sudan's largest foreign investor. It has blocked strong United Nations action against the government of Sudan.

And that's IN THE NEWS, in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. I'm Steve Ember.

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