China said on Tuesday that protesters were out to hijack the Olympic Games as the torch relay embarked on a world tour that is certain to ignite demonstrations.
Pro-Tibet activists, human rights campaigners and groups seeking to end the crisis in Darfur say they plan protests during the relay, which is scheduled to last 130 days and cover 137 000km.
“No plot to hijack the Beijing Olympics deserves the moral high ground it claims,” the official China Daily said on Tuesday in an editorial.
China maintains that protesters are attempting to politicise the August 8 to 24 Olympics and that they are doomed to fail, claiming most people around the world are opposed to linking controversies with the showpiece events.
The demonstrations run counter to the Olympic spirit of peace, friendship and respect, the China Daily said.
“Sensational as they are, the calls to politicise the Olympics are a blasphemy against the Olympic spirit,” the editorial added.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry also hit out at groups and individuals calling for a boycott of the Olympics over various controversies surrounding China.
“The Olympics is a sporting event for people around the world. To not come to Beijing is not isolating China,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu said.
She was speaking as the torch made its way from Beijing to Almaty, Kazakhstan, for the first leg of its global journey.
Rights groups are focusing on the London leg on Sunday, Paris on Monday and San Francisco, the only stop in the United States, next Wednesday, April 9.
One rallying cry for protesters is Tibet, whose government-in-exile says up to 140 people have died in a crackdown on the more than three weeks of unrest and protests against Chinese rule of the Himalayan region.
China denies any people have died in the crackdown, and instead insists that Tibetan rioters killed 18 innocent civilians and two police officers.
Anne Holmes, acting director of the London-based Free Tibet Campaign, said feelings were running high ahead of the British leg.
“We will have a presence. Our plan is to do something peaceful to make our point,” she said.
Under stringent security, China staged an elaborate ceremony for the torch relay in central Tiananmen Square on Monday attended by top leaders, including President Hu Jintao.
The flame had arrived in Beijing earlier on Monday from Greece.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief Jacques Rogge, in a speech delivered to the Beijing gathering, said the torch would spread Olympic “magic” around the world.
The relay is billed as the most ambitious of all time with the “high point” being an ascent of Mount Everest in May and several potential hot spots along the route, including a controversial Tibet leg in June.
Campaign groups are also considering protests along the 40 000km route in China itself.
But officials in Beijing and Tibet are confident there will be no security breaches for the legs in the Himalayan region.
“To our knowledge, some separatists from within and outside China are seeking to sabotage the Olympic torch relay within Tibet,” Baema Chilain, vice-chairperson of the Tibetan regional government, told Chinese reporters last week.
“We are confident and capable of ensuring the security of the relay and taking it to the top of the peak.”
But outside China, the situation has already proved different. Last week, protesters defied tight security to disrupt the torch-lighting ceremony in Ancient Olympia.
China branded the protests in Greece “shameful” and has put pressure on cities along the international route to ensure smooth progress of the torch. — AFP