China set to win Olympics despite human rights fears

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Brushing aside a chorus of protests from human rights campaigners, the International Olympic Committee is expected to ask China to host the 2008 summer Games.

The 100-plus members of the IOC will vote in Moscow . They will be choosing from five bidding cities, all of whom made their final pitches to the press yesterday. Paris and Toronto have equal billing with China on technical grounds, but the smart money is on Beijing. The other bidders are Osaka and Istanbul.

Chinese officials were given a rough ride at the bid presentations, fielding questions about the torture of dissidents, political repression, and their country's ranking as world leader in executions.

"Would a foreign tourist attending the games be arrested for waving a Tibetan flag?" one journalist wanted to know. Another wondered if visiting reporters would be allowed to go about their business in China without interference. The Chinese smiled and nodded, replying in fluent English. The death penalty was not unique to China, said Wang Wei, secretary of the Beijing bid. Dissenting voices would not only be tolerated but welcomed.

Critics argue that sending the Games to Beijing would reward one of the world's most repressive regimes. Eight years ago, with memories of Tiananmen Square still fresh, the IOC snubbed China, selecting Sydney for the 2000 Games. China had led every round until the last.

The IOC members met yesterday to discuss the Olympic ideals of "peaceful honest competition" with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. As they spoke, two anti-Beijing activists were locked up by police for distributing leaflets. Free Tibet protesters had their gathering broken up by riot police after they unfurled a flag featuring bullet holes in place of the five Olympic rings.

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