Critics of China’s human rights record made sure they were not forgotten on Thursday, a day before the grand opening of the Beijing Olympics, with protest actions the world over and in China itself.
A day after cheering crowds welcomed the Olympic torch to Beijing’s Tiananmen Square — scene of a 1989 massacre of pro-democracy protesters — activists from Canada to Kathmandu sought to get their voices heard.
Already detained once for protesting on the square, three US Christians were forcefully dragged from the site as they prayed publicly, a statement on their behalf said.
“We were in Tiananmen Square publicly praying for the people of China when police forcefully dragged us across the street,” Reverend Patrick J. Mahoney, one of the three, was quoted as saying while in custody.
Meanwhile two British and two US activists who staged a dramatic pro-Tibet protest on Wednesday near the stadium where the Olympics will open in Beijing have been deported from China, their campaign group said in a statement.
The two Britons, who helped unfurl giant “Free Tibet” banners, arrived back in London on Thursday and warned the protests would continue in China.
China has painted the Games as a celebration of three decades of economic reforms and hopes the event will showcase a rapidly modernising country.
But activists seeking to pressure China have vowed to use the Games to raise awareness of their causes, which include Beijing’s rule of Tibet, arrests of dissidents, Internet censorship and gripes about Chinese foreign policy.
A total of 127 athletes have called on China’s President Hu Jintao to seek a peaceful solution to the Tibet issue and improve the human rights situation, according to an open letter posted online.
The athletes, including more than 40 competing in the Games, urged Hu “to protect freedom of expression, freedom of religion and freedom of opinion in your country, including Tibet”.
An estimated 1,500 Tibetans staged a protest in Nepal, with monks and nuns praying and chanting mantras gathered next to a popular Buddhist monastery.
Protesters in Kathmandu wore “Help protect the practice of Buddhism in Tibet” and “Stop cultural genocide” T-shirts, an AFP reporter said, while some demonstrators scuffled with police.
In India, close to 1,000 Tibetans staged a march amid heavy security in the heart of New Dehli.
Carrying Tibetan flags and joined by monks, the protesters shouted “Say no to Beijing Olympics” and “No Olympics in China.”
More than 100 police and paramilitary troops were deployed with fire extinguishers, blankets and buckets of water amid fears that some protesters may set themselves on fire.
In Europe, authorities have banned rights groups from demonstrating outside the Chinese embassy in Paris on Thursday and Friday, according to a ruling sent to media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
The ruling, a copy of which was sent to AFP, bans “all gatherings” from Thursday at 7:00 am (0500 GMT) to Friday at midnight (2200 GMT) within a fixed perimeter surrounding the Chinese embassy and consulate.
RSF had called for a rally outside the embassy at 1:00 pm Friday, to coincide with French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s arrival in Beijing for the three-hour-long Olympic opening ceremony.
The media watchdog has challenged the ruling in court, with a decision due Friday at 10:30 am.
On Wednesday some 20 pro-Tibet demonstrators had burst into a branch of the UPS delivery firm in Paris to condemn sponsors of what they called “the shameful Olympic Games.”
In Germany, around 100 protesters representing Tibetan groups, Uighurs, Mongolians and the Falun Gong spiritual movement gathered in front of the Chinese embassy in the capital Berlin, waving flags and holding banners.
The demonstrators tried — and failed — to hand over a petition signed by 10,000 people calling for greater human rights in China organised by a local non-governmental organisation.
There were also protests planned in Lisbon and in Porto in Portugal, candle vigils in several Swiss cities and one in Norway, while in London the Free Tibet campaign was to hold a protest in front of the Chinese embassy on Friday.
In Canada, five protestors briefly chained themselves to the gates of the Chinese embassy in Ottawa on Wednesday, and were to be joined on Thursday by former Miss World Canada Nazanin Afshin-Jam and two lawmakers, organisers said.