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Protesters' parks

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James Reynolds | 14:04 UK time, Wednesday, 23 July 2008

"No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas."
- Article 51.3 of the Olympic Charter

China has made it clear that it will actively enforce this rule during the Beijing Games. The organisers say that fans won't be able to take in any banners or leaflets which contain political, religious, racial, commercial, military, or other messages. This ban even includes traditional "Go China" banners (the logic being that cheering for China alone would count as political propaganda).

National stadium, BeijingThat covers demonstrations inside Olympic venues. But what about demonstrations outside the venues - in the city of Beijing itself? In previous Olympics, special areas have been set aside for protesters. Will Beijing do the same?

We've been trying to get the answer to this question for several months. This morning we finally got our chance. The director of the security department of the Beijing Games, Liu Shaowu, held a press conference at the newly-opened Olympic media centre (the conference was held in a room the size of a cinema).

Mr Liu presented his overall security plan for the games - a plan which includes the deployment of a battery of surface-to-air missiles near the Olympic stadium.

A reporter asked him about special protest areas.

"We have designated places for demonstrations at several parks," Mr Liu replied, without giving any further information.

A correspondent in front of me, from CNN, was then called on. "Sorry, you said that there would be dedicated places for protests. Which park will that be?"

Lady knitting in Ritan park, Beijing"We have three parks," Mr Liu replied "One in Fengtai district - Shijie park, and one in the Haidian district - the Zizhuyuan park, and Ritan park in the Chaoyang district. They are all close to the city proper and the Olympic venues."

A very specific reply - but the names of the parks were delivered so quickly that journalists after the press conference had to gather round to make sure they'd written them down correctly. (I got the exact words later from the recording we made of the press conference.)

In theory, we shouldn't have to worry about getting everything down at the time - because the official website of the Beijing Games quickly posts a transcript of all of its press conferences.

But I've learned that these official transcripts don't always include everything that was said. A year ago, I asked a reasonably difficult question about rumours that Steven Spielberg would resign as an artistic advisor to the Beijing Olympics (he eventually did so in February this year). My question - together with the frosty reply that it provoked - was left out of the transcript.

So, this afternoon, I checked the transcript of this most recent press conference.

The transcript - both in English and in Chinese - leaves out the specific bit where Mr Liu names the three parks designated as protest areas (the transcript appears to include everything else that was said at the press conference). I asked a Beijing Games official about the omission - he said that he didn't have an explanation for it.

I'm not sure what to make of the omission. But if you want to know what Beijing Olympic officials have been saying (and what they get asked) - you can't always rely exclusively on the official version online.


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