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7 Aug, 2008 15:37

Bush told: 'Olympics is no place for politics'

Global leaders have been watching the opening ceremony of the Olympics Games in Beijing's Bird's Nest stadium. Despite general support for China's efforts, it's feared some may use one of the world's great sporting occas

When Beijing won the opportunity to host the 2008 Olympics seven years ago, the International Olympic Committee said it expected major changes in China. As the years passed, the country attempted to transform itself, both economically and socially. But it's on the political scene that Beijing is still irritating some leaders.

The day before the Olympics' opening ceremony, U.S. President George W Bush reminded Beijing of the political context of the event, by lashing out at the Chinese government.

“I have spoken clearly, and candidly, and consistently with China's leaders about our deep concerns over religious freedom and human rights. I have met repeatedly with Chinese dissidents and religious believers,” the president said.

Bush continued that the U.S. believes the people of China “deserve the fundamental liberty that is the natural right of all human beings”. He added that America stands in firm opposition to China's detention of political dissidents, human rights advocates, and religious activists.

While many Western leaders share his stance, some high-ranking politicians disagree – at least with the timing of criticism. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the Olympics are only about sport and emphasised that it is important not to mix politics with that.

“People have got their political points to make. They are perfectly justified in making them. But really, I think the games have got to be about the Olympics itself,” he told Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Blair added that, “since we, the UK, are the host of the London 2012 games, it’s very important to establish that principle.”

Needless to say, the Chinese are adamant about Bush's criticism. They say that although the changes in their country haven't yet satisfied everybody, this is only the beginning.

“We are changing. And it’s all because we were given this chance to host the games. I as an ordinary citizen know the country is turning into a major power. And that's something to be happy with,” a Chinese citizen told RT on Thursday.

It is still unclear whether democracy and change will dominate the Beijing games after they start, once all the leaders have arrived. But one thing seems certain: politics is one game the Chinese are determined to avoid.