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IOC says no censorship deal as Games fever hots

Olympic chief Jacques Rogge said no deal had been cut with China to allow Internet censorship during the Games, as crowds swarmed parts of Beijing to glimpse a spectacular fireworks show.

india Updated: Aug 02, 2008 21:48 IST
Guy Newey

Olympic chief Jacques Rogge said on Saturday no deal had been cut with China to allow Internet censorship during the Games, as crowds swarmed parts of Beijing to glimpse a spectacular fireworks show.

With just six days to go before the Games, Rogge made his first public statement on the furore over the restrictions on Internet access for foreign reporters covering the Games, but stopped short of making an apology.

"The conditions you were working in on Tuesday were not good," the International Olympic Committee president told reporters here, after foreign journalists this week found they could not access a wide range of Internet sites.

"I am not going to make an apology for something that the IOC is not responsible for. We are not running the Internet in China," Rogge said.

Beijing has since unblocked a number of sites including that of Amnesty International, but many remain inaccessible, bringing more unwanted bad publicity for Games organisers and the Chinese government.

Rogge told a news conference here late Saturday there was "no deal whatsoever to accept restrictions" with Chinese authorities, contrary to earlier comments from an IOC official.

That official -- IOC executive board member Kevan Gosper, who later confirmed there had not been a deal -- said Saturday the IOC and BOCOG, the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, have now set up a working group to examine which remaining censored websites can be unblocked.

On Friday, the previously barred websites of Amnesty, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders and German broadcaster Deutsche Welle were accessible.

Sites such as online encyclopedia Wikipedia and the BBC's Chinese language service had opened, Rogge said, adding such a move was "unprecedented across China."

Saturday evening also saw a strong sign of Beijing residents' enthusiasm for the Games as thousands headed to the Olympic district, angling for the best possible view of the iconic National Stadium, which was holding a dress rehearsal for Friday's opening ceremony.

The main draw was the spectacular fireworks display, which was visible from across the city, as the heavy smog that often blights Beijing stayed away.

Rogge praised the "excellent" organisation of the Beijing Games and the Olympic village, saying the infrastructure compared favourably to the Athens Games of 2004 that was dogged by delays in finishing the venues.

"By all accounts, especially by the athletes, this is the best ever Olympic village ... It is really outstanding," he said.

Meanwhile, the IOC announced here it had stripped the United States' 4x400-metre men's relay team of the gold medal it won at the Sydney 2000 Olympics for doping.

The decision was made after team member Antonio Pettigrew admitted in May to doping as far back as 1997, IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies said.

Rogge added that the spate of recent positive doping cases that have hit countries such as Russia and Romania was the result of aggressive testing of athletes ahead of the Beijing Games.

He said the aggressive stance meant between 15 and 17 drug cheats had been uncovered ahead of the Games.

"These are 17 cheats that will not falsify the competition," he said.

Earlier at a ceremony at Beijing's Great Hall of the People, Rogge presented a four million dollar cheque to help build a school for athletes in Sichuan province, which is still recovering from the May 12 earthquake which killed more then 69,000 people, state news agency Xinhua reported.