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China says it smashed Muslim plot to disrupt Olympics

By Tim Johnson
McClatchy Newspapers
(MCT)

URUMQI, China _ The International Olympics chief said Thursday that the Summer Games scheduled for August in China are in “crisis” amid protests following the Olympic torch, and the sense of emergency surrounding the games grew Thursday when China declared that it had smashed a Muslim terrorist ring that was plotting to kidnap Olympic athletes.

The Ministry of Public Security said it broke up a terror ring of 35 members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement in this predominantly Muslim city in far west China. It said the group planned a variety of actions to disrupt the Aug. 8-24 games, including setting off bombs in Beijing and Shanghai.

The arrests occurred March 26 to April 6, Public Security Ministry spokesman Wu Heping told a news conference in Beijing, adding that police also seized 21 pounds of explosives, eight detonators and two explosive devices.

“The violent terrorist group plotted to kidnap foreign journalists, tourists and athletes during the Beijing Olympics and, by creating an international impact, achieve the goal of wrecking the Beijing Olympics,” Wu said.

“We are facing a real threat from terrorism,” Wu said, declining to take questions.

At the same time, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge acknowledged that protests of the Olympic torch during the past week have been tough on the Olympic movement.

“It is a crisis, no doubt about it,” Rogge told other Olympics representatives meeting in Beijing as he urged them to reassure athletes that the games “will be very well-organized.”

The Olympic torch moved from San Francisco to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where some 1,200 police were on hand to stop the kind of disruptions that marred the relay earlier in the week in London and Paris amid protests over China’s rights record.

A sense of crisis surrounding the Beijing Olympics intensified on other fronts. In Brussels, Belgium, the European Parliament voted 580-24 to urge European Union leaders to consider a mass boycott of the Olympics opening ceremony unless China enters direct negotiations with the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibetans, said he supports the Beijing Olympics and opposes violence around the torch relay, but he warned China that pro-Tibetan activists are entitled to speak out.

“Nobody has the right to say `shut up,”’ the Dalai Lama said in Japan, where he was on a stopover on the way to a speaking tour in the United States.

Thousands of Tibetans launched an uprising that jolted wide swaths of China last month, but they aren’t the only ethnic minorities chafing under China’s rule. Some Muslim Uighurs in China’s far west are also unhappy, and Beijing raised a new red flag Thursday over what it said were the violent intentions of that minority.

China has repeatedly accused the Dalai Lama of instigating unrest among Tibetans in an effort to spoil its bid to host the best Olympic Games ever.

Both the United States and the United Nations have designated the East Turkestan Islamic Movement a terrorist organization. But some experts believe that the group has dwindled markedly since the 1990s, when it was held responsible for a series of bombings, and that China may be inflating a terrorism threat to increase repression in this oil and mineral-rich area.

Wu said authorities broke up another Muslim ring in January whose leaders were “sent from abroad” to carry out attacks with poisoned food and explosives on “hotels, government buildings, military bases and other establishments.”

Last month, officials said they thwarted an attempt by two Uighurs carrying Pakistani passports to set a fire aboard a Chinese airliner. Some counterterrorism experts doubted the claim and called on China to be more forthcoming with information.

Departing from past reticence to criticize the Olympic host nation, Rogge also broached the matter of China’s expressed commitment to improve human rights in the country before it won the right in 2001 to host the 2008 games, noting that China didn’t sign a legal agreement but has a moral commitment.

“The representatives of the bid have said, and I quote freely because I do not know it by heart, that awarding the games to China would advance the social agenda of China, including human rights,” Rogge said. “We definitely ask China to respect this moral engagement.”

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu later urged the International Olympic Committee not to introduce “any irrelevant political factors” before the games begin.

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(Special correspondent Fan Di in Beijing contributed to this report.)

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© 2008, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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