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Page last updated at 11:24 GMT, Wednesday, 23 July 2008 12:24 UK

China 'to allow Olympic protests'

Two people chat in Ritan park, one of three designated protest venues
Ritan park is one of the three venues set aside for protesters, officials say

China says it will allow demonstrations in three designated city parks during the Olympic Games in Beijing.

But anyone wanting to protest will have to apply for permission from the city's government and police.

The announcement suggests China will have a more relaxed attitude towards protesters during the Olympics than it had in the past.

But Chinese citizens are already allowed to stage rallies. In reality, there are few anti-government protests.

Liu Shaowu, director of the Beijing organising committee's security department, said protests would be allowed in Shijie, Zizhuyuan and Ritan parks.

BBC Beijing correspondent James Reynolds

Organisers say that fans won't be able to take in any banners or leaflets which contain political, religious, racial, commercial, military, or other messages

The BBC's James Reynolds

"They are all close to the city proper and the Olympic venues," he told a press conference on the city's security preparations.

But Mr Wu was hazy about how potential protesters would apply for permission, and on whether spontaneous demonstrations would be allowed.

"As for the concrete application, and who handles those applications, I have no clear information at this time," he said.

'Encouraged'

The issue of protests is a sensitive one for China, which this year has had to deal with unrest in Tibetan areas in western China.

Chinese law as Mr Wu made clear lets ordinary people stage demonstrations, but few protests take place that are not sanctioned by the government.

To underline just how sensitive the issue is, the Chinese authorities seemed reluctant to publicise exactly where protests would be allowed.

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A transcript of Wednesday's press conference on the Beijing organising committee's website expunged the parks' names.

Earlier, Mr Wu made it clear no activities involving ethnic, political or religious activities would be allowed inside Olympic venues.

Previously, Olympic cities have set aside areas for protests, and the International Olympic Committee wanted China to follow suit.

"Past organisers have found ways to manage any protests, and the Chinese authorities were encouraged to do the same," said an IOC spokeswoman.

At the press conference, Mr Wu also dismissed suggestions that the Olympics would be a "kill-joy games" because of excessive security restrictions.

His assessment appears to be shared by the vast majority of Chinese people.

An investigation by the US-based Pew Research Centre found that 96% of Chinese people think the Olympics will be a success.

Nearly as many believe the Olympic Games will improve China's image across the globe.


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