August 8, 2008

OTTAWA -- Protesters in the capital used the eve of the official start to the Beijing Olympics to launch more protests against China's human-rights record Thursday.

About 100 demonstrators from several groups, along with a number of politicians, fanned out across the street from the Chinese embassy in Ottawa, waving flags and hoisting placards.

It was the second time in as many days that protesters voiced concerns about human rights in China, along with a wide range of other issues, including Chinese rule over Tibet, the communist country's stand on Taiwan, and China's involvement in Darfur.

Unlike Wednesday's demonstrations, in which free-Tibet campaigners chained themselves to the embassy's gates, Thursday's activities were subdued. They consisted mainly of a lineup of speakers ranging from human-rights activists to groups fighting persecution of the Falun Gong movement.

"The Chinese communist regime cannot use (the) Olympics to persecute its own people," said Grace Wollensak, spokeswoman for the Ottawa chapter of Falun Gong.

"In the context of preparing the so-called successful Games, they have rounded up over 8,000 Falun Gong practitioners nation-wide in just six months," she claimed.

A handful of Ottawa city police and Mounties stood watch in front of the mostly barricaded crowd, and from across the four-lane roadway in front of the embassy compound.

Opposition members of Parliament earlier in the day spoke out against human-rights abuses in China, less than 24 hours before the official opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics were to take place in Beijing.

On the eve of the Games, the world is seeing continuing human-rights violations by China, said Liberal MP Irwin Cotler.

"What we are witnessing today . . . is a persistent and pervasive assault on human rights in China," Cotler told a news conference.

"A betrayal of the Olympic Charter, the Olympic Games and China's pledge to respect both."

Former Liberal David Kilgour accused China of killing Falun Gong practitioners, arguing that Beijing should never have been allowed to host the Games.

"Since 2001, the government of China and its agencies have killed thousands of Falun Gong practitioners without any form of prior trial," he said.

"How a country like that could be awarded the Olympic Games is beyond my comprehension."

Officials at the Chinese embassy could not be reached for comment Thursday.