By Stephanie Nebehay
LAUSANNE, Switzerland (Reuters) -Several hundred Tibetan and Uyghur activists marched on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Thursday, a day before Beijing 2022 opens, accusing the Swiss-based organisation of complicity in “atrocities” committed against ethnic minorities in China.
Hours earlier, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that the Beijing Olympics would be streamlined, safe and splendid, even as IOC President Thomas Bach decried boycott ghosts “rearing their ugly heads again” over human rights concerns.
The United States, Britain and some other allied countries have staged diplomatic boycotts of the Games over those concerns.
“Today here we are gathered, Tibetans from at least eight different countries in Europe, in front of the IOC building to protest against IOC awarding the Winter Olympics 2022 to the Beijing government,” Karma Choekyi, head of the Tibetan Community of Switzerland and Liechtenstein, told Reuters.
She said more than 150 Tibetans had self-immolated after the 2008 Beijing Summer Games because of “much repression in Tibet”.
“So to award yet again the Winter Olympics 2022 to Beijing means the IOC has not taken (account) of gross human rights violations by the Chinese regime on the people of Tibet, east Turkistan (Xinjiang), southern Mongolia and even the fragile democracy in Hong Kong,” she said.
The marchers – many wrapped in the red, yellow and blue flag of Tibet and dressed in traditional robes – chanted and played drums, holding a minute of silence for their “martrys” before starting a “peace march” along Lake Geneva.
Their chants included “Beijing Olympics, Genocide Games”, “Tibet is burning” and “Long live Dalai Lama”.
They presented a petition to IOC security staff signed by the presidents of 10 Tibetan communities in Europe.
Migmar Dengo, a Tibetan who got Swiss asylum two decades ago, posed with a snowboard with the motto “IOC is corrupted by China”.
“I love snowboarding and the Games but this time it is too painful with no justice,” he said. “We need freedom in Tibet.”
Rights groups have long criticised the IOC for awarding the Games to China, citing its treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups in the western Xinjiang region, which the United States has deemed genocide.
China denies allegations of human rights abuses and says it opposes the “politicisation” of sports.
China seized control of Tibet after its troops entered the region in 1950 in what it calls a “peaceful liberation”, ending serfdom in the region. Ethnic Tibetans make up more than 80% of the population in the Tibet Autonomous Region, one of the most restricted areas in the country. Critics, led by exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, say Beijing’s rule amounts to “cultural genocide”.
Since Xi came to power a decade ago, China had intensified its crackdown on Buddhist learning centres and Buddhist religious sites, a statement from Tibetan activists said, adding: “China has committed and continues to commit cultural genocide in Tibet”.
Friday’s start of the Games will turn attention away from criticism over human rights, a spokesman for the organising committee said.
“The so-called China human rights issue is a lie made up by people with ulterior motives,” Zhao Weidong, spokesman for the Beijing Games, told Reuters in an interview on Thursday when asked if such criticism had undermined the Games.
“I want to emphasise that the Olympics is a great spectacle for athletes and sports fans across the world. From the current situation, many countries and athletes have expressed their support for the Beijing Winter Olympics,” he said.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Nick Macfie)