On the Beijing Beat: 'Free expression' struggles to find outlet at the Games

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The Independent Online

The local authorities promised a commitment to "free expression" (away from the venues) during the Games, and it's good to see the hard data on how they're faring. The Chinese government said last month that anyone wanting to stage a legal protest could simply make a request five days in advance, give details of the protest and provide basic details of the participants. Three parks were earmarked for demos.

Figures just released show that 77 applications have been lodged to stage protests during the Games so far, involving 149 people, some of them foreign. As Mo Yuchuan, the director of the Research Centre for Constitutional and Administrative Law of Renmin University, says: "It offers a new channel for the protesters to better express their opinions by attracting the attention of tourists, reporters and officials during the Games."

And the number of protests that have actually happened? Errrm, none. Rather marvellously, a government spokesman said 74 requests "had been withdrawn after amicable settlements between the parties and authorities". Hoorah for diplomacy!

"Two other applications have been suspended due to incomplete procedures. In one case, the applicant wanted to involve children in the demonstration. This is against the law."

Another case is pending because of "incomplete particulars". One application was rejected by because it was "in violation of China's law on protests". No further details were given.

The diary can only echo the view of one local blogger, who writes: "I would love to have seen some of those 'amicable settlements'." Another netizen was more to the point: "77-0 for China! Another gold for China!"

Big questions in

little China?

Yesterday's big, big story about China's little, little gymnasts maybe not being quite what they seem rumbles on. The Chinese say that He Kexin, who beat Beth Tweddle in the uneven bars, is 16, and so old enough to take part, but other evidence appears to suggest she is 14.

The Chinese have "previous" in age falsification. At the Sydney Olympics, Yang Yun was supposedly 15 years and nine months old when winning two bronze gymnastics medals only to tell state-run TV in China later that she was 14 (and so ineligible). Yet state media still quote her age as if she were 16 at the time of her success.

Out of the tank, into the ring

Owning up does not seem to have done the career of the Thai boxer Ruenroeng Amnat any harm. He was arrested for street robbery in 2004 on a night out with friends. "We snatched a bag and ran away but I was arrested," he said yesterday. He got a five-year sentence but took up boxing inside, fought at the 2007 national amateur championships, won gold, and was pardoned the next day, on King Bhumibol Adulyadej's birthday. "My boxing and good behaviour were the main reasons," he said.

Nick Harris

Word on the street

Surname: Pan

Given Name: Xian

Sex: Male

Age: 54

Birthplace: Dalian, Liaoning Province

Occupation: Architect

How much attention have you been paying to the Games? Not as much as I'd like. I haven't been able to buy any tickets so I can't see any of it live, also, I'm very busy at work so I haven't been able to watch much of it on TV either.

Apart from China, are there any other teams or sportsmen that you feel strongly about, and why? Hmm... If they are good enough to compete in the Olympics then they have my respect; wherever they are from they are all praiseworthy.

What are the best and worst things about the Olympic Games in Beijing? For the first time the world is able to understand China and our culture. A bad thing? There aren't enough tickets!

How do you feel about Liu Xiang's early exit from the 110 metre hurdles? Of course all of us in China are very disappointed. He was injured though, we should all understand.

Have you heard reports or rumours that his withdrawal could be due to something other than injury? Yes, but they are just not true. He is a professional athlete; he wouldn't just bow out to pressure. Everyone I know supports him; maybe those who don't are just angry that they got their hopes up, blaming Liu Xiang is a way of comforting themselves.

Some Western reports suggest that last night's gymnastics champion He Kexin is underage, have you heard about this? This is the first I have heard anything like that. I don't believe it. She is a fantastic gymnast, that is all I know.

Jeremy Webb

Alternative guide

Are you fed up trying to get your hands on that elusive Olympic ticket? Well why not fly the Bird's Nest and take a trip out of the Beijing smog and humidity?

A world away from the Olympic city is Tibet, a region culturally, religiously, ethnically, linguistically and geographically distinct from the rest of China.

Following the unrest back in March of this year Tibet was closed to all foreign tourists. Although restrictions to the region have since been lifted somewhat, travel to Tibet remains tough for the independent traveller; the Lonely Planet website suggests that the only way to successfully obtain the necessary documentation is as part of a group.

An easier way to get to Tibet is to travel with a tour group, letting an English-speaking travel agency arrange everything for you.

Be warned though prices are not cheap, a nine day trip will cost you around 12,800 Chinese Yuan Renminbi (about £1,000); the price quoted includes return travel, food and accommodation.

Jeremy Webb

Today at the Games

All times BST

15.20 Athletics Usain Bolt, who won the 100m title in such commanding fashion, goes for the sprint double in the final of the 200m. The Jamaican is more likely to settle for another showboating victory than attack Michael Johnson's world record, but it is hard to see anybody catching him

12.00: Athletics: Michael Rimmer features in the men's 800m heats

12.00 Diving: Tonia Couch and Stacie Powell compete in the women's 10m platform preliminaries

13.16 Boxing: James Degale fights Kazakhstan's Bakhtiyar Artayev for a place in the middleweight semi-finals

02.00 (tonight) Cycling: Shanaze Reade (left) competes in the BMX women's semi-finals

What you may have missed overnight...

02.00 Swimming: Britain's Cassie Patten and Kerri-Anne Payne were medal contenders in the 10km open water race at Lake Shunyi

02.00 Beach volleyball: Men's semi-finals

02.45 Cycling: Britain's Shanaze Reade was taking part in a run to decide seedings for tomorrow's BMX competition

04.00 Taekwondo: Britain's Michael Harvey fought Mexico's Guillermo Perez in the under-58kg preliminary round

06.00 Sailing: Medal races in the men's and women's windsurfer events. Britain's Nick Dempsey was a contender for gold, while Bryony Shaw was looking good for a medal.

Later today...

08.00 Synchronised swimming: Medals will be decided by today's duet free routine

13.00 Basketball: The US, featuring Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and company, take on Australia in the quarter-finals

13.15 Athletics: Men's 5,000m heats. Kenenisa Bekele sets out on the second half of his long distance double on the track.

14.30 Athletics: Men's 110m hurdles semi-finals. World record holder Dayron Robles of Cuba is in action

14.55 Athletics: Women's 200m semi-finals, with Veronica Campbell-Brown of Jamaica

15.35 Athletics: Women's 400m hurdles final. Should be an open contest for the crown held by Fani Halkia, who last week failed a drugs test.

If you want to stay up late tonight...

02.20 Athletics: No Dean Macey in the decathlon but Daniel Awde represents Britain

06.00 Sailing: Medal races in the Star and Tornado classes.

Weather watch

A warm day. Temperatures will peak around 29C, but it should remain dry