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China's push for the perfect Games

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

Wang Xiuying and her friend, Wu Dianyuan, do not look like enemies of the state. They are both nearly 80 and walk with the aid of a stick.

Wang Xiuying (r)  and Wu Dianyuan
Wang Xiuying, right, and Wu Dianyuan applied to stage their own protest
But the grandmothers have both been told they face a year in a re-education-through-labour camp if they do not stop protesting.

This punishment seems a strange fate for two elderly women who only want to complain about being thrown out of their homes.

But their case illustrates just how far the government has been prepared to go to present China's best image during the Olympic Games.

That campaign has been largely successful. The Olympics are already being hailed as a major triumph.

Good organisation

There seems little doubt that the Beijing Olympics have given the Chinese government the global recognition it sought by holding the event.

The scintillating sport has helped. Sprinter Usain Bolt's two world records and swimmer Michael Phelps's eight gold medals were memorable performances.

A lack of major doping scandals has also helped focus attention on the competition and not on the seedier aspects of the Olympics.

But the Beijing Games have also been an organisational success. Venues were finished on time and the event has run smoothly from day one.

The International Olympic Committee has rarely had to meet with the Beijing organisers to iron out problems, and is already declaring the games a success.

The grandmothers' brick homes
The two elderly women were evicted from their homes

Even Beijing's air pollution has mostly disappeared. The city has enjoyed its cleanest August air in a decade, largely due to emergency measures to reduce pollution.

Former sprinter and Olympic medallist Frankie Fredericks, now an IOC official, said he would have liked to have performed in Beijing.

"I wish I was still running. Coming to Beijing and seeing the facilities here have been amazing," he said.

Lost patience

But a successful Olympics was not assured, mainly because China has faced a range of issues this year that could have derailed its Olympic dreams.

There has been criticism about its human rights record, a crackdown in Tibet and accusations over its close ties to Sudan.

China worked hard to diffuse these issues. It persuaded world leaders to attend the Games, spruced up Beijing and has tried to prevent protesters airing their views.

"Beijing was determined to show the best face to the world, and officials were not going to let anyone tarnish that image," said Xu Guoqi, who has just written a book about China and the Olympics.

That determination not to let anything spoil the games has proved to be bad news for the two protesting grandmothers.

Mrs Wang, 77, and her neighbour Mrs Wu, 79, have been complaining about the forced eviction from their homes for seven years.

Despite their frail appearance, both women have been arrested five times and have staged protests outside the Beijing compound of the nation's top leaders.

The authorities appear to have lost patience with the two when they applied to stage a demonstration at one of three Beijing "protest parks".

These parks were set aside by the government for ordinary people to vent their feelings during the Olympic Games.

After applying to stage their own demonstration, Mrs Wang and Mrs Wu both received an official notice giving them a clear warning.

It gave them a one-year suspended sentence and told them to abide by "relevant rules".

Chinese citizens can be sent to re-education camps for up to four years by the police without first having to be convicted in a court of law.

The notice received by the elderly protesters, who now live in simple brick homes, did not state clearly what the relevant rules were.

But it added: "If you break the rules… you will be taken to a re-education-through-labour camp to serve the sentence."

'There's no justice'

"It's not fair. There's no justice," said Mrs Wang, who is nearly blind and is registered as a disabled person.

The treatment meted out to the protesting grandmothers is only one aspect of the extraordinary lengths China has gone to because of the Olympics.

Migrant workers have been sent away, open-air markets have been closed and drivers have been forced to leave their cars at home.

Beijing residents grumble, and sometimes joke, about these temporary measures, but they mostly bear them, believing in the overall benefits from hosting the Olympics.

Mrs Wang and Mrs Wu have also seen some Olympic events.

Mrs Wu watches at home and Mrs Wang, who has no electricity, hobbles down to a nearby shop to watch the games.

Even those at odds with the government can be Olympic fans.



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