China claims to foil 'kidnapping plot'

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The Independent Online

The Chinese government claimed yesterday to have uncovered a plot by Muslim separatists in Xinjiang to sabotage the Beijing Olympics with suicide bombings and kidnappings.

Chinese security forces offered no evidence to back up the allegations of a terror plot, the latest in a series of conspiracies unearthed in Xinjiang, a western province where Turkic Uighurs have staged a struggle for a breakaway state. The Chinese government has been accused of using the "war on terror" as a cover to hunt down suspected Islamic militants.

A Public Security Ministry spokesman, Wu Heping, said 35 people had been arrested in the province over recent weeks for plotting to kidnap athletes, foreign journalists and other visitors to the Games.

They were recruiting explosive experts and planned to use suicide bombs in Urumqi and other Chinese cities, Mr Wu said. Security officials have also accused Tibetans in the past few weeks of planning suicide bomb attacks.

China is looking more isolated internationally over Tibet. The European Parliament urged EU leaders to boycott the opening ceremony unless China agrees to talks with the Dalai Lama. Along with Gordon Brown, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has decided to stay away, while President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, who will hold the EU presidency during the Games, says his attendance depends on a dialogue between China and the Dalai Lama. Amnesty International urged Mr Brown to "stop ducking the issue of China's human rights record and make a clear, public statement condemning abuses in the country".

In the US, the Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama joined his rival Hillary Clinton in calling for President George Bush to boycott the opening ceremonies but the Republican nominee, John McCain, did not join in.

The head of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, conceded the turmoil over Tibet had provoked "a crisis, there is no doubt about that". But he added: "The IOC has weathered many bigger storms." But Mr Rogge added that any athlete displaying a Tibetan flag would be expelled from the Beijing games under anti-propaganda rules.

There was another blow last night when the Kenyan Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai withdrew as a torchbearer for Sunday's leg in Tanzania. "I am troubled that these Olympics, rather than being a unifying movement, have become most divisive," the environmental activist said.