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Rights activists urge boycott of Beijing 'genocide' Olympics

Greek torch bearer Ioannis Melissanidis, left, Olympic gold medalist in gymnastics, passes the flame to world cycling champion Christos Volikakis in front of the ancient Parthenon temple atop of the Acropolis Hill in Athens, on Oct. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Hours before Tuesday's handover of the Olympic flame for the 2022 Winter Olympics, human rights activists urged international governments, sponsors and athletes to boycott what they called China's "genocide games."

    Activist groups, which also disrupted the flame lighting ceremony in southern Greece on Monday, accused the International Olympic Committee of granting legitimacy to rights abuses in China by allowing the Winter Games to go ahead in Beijing.

    "We have yet again borne witness to the hypocrisy" of the IOC, Mandie McKeown, the executive director for the International Tibet Network, told a news conference in Athens.

    "They're handing over the Olympic torch to a host government that is so far removed from holding any of (the Olympic) ideals that it seems we're living in a kind of warped reality," McKeown said.

    There has been international criticism of China's treatment of Uyghur Muslims in the northwest region of Xinjiang, as well as its crackdown on protesters in Hong Kong and its policies toward Tibet and Taiwan.

    But the IOC -- which also awarded the 2008 summer Olympics to Beijing -- has shied away from the issue, saying it's out of its remit.

    In his speech in the ancient stadium of Olympia on Monday, IOC President Thomas Bach stressed that the modern Games must be "respected as politically neutral ground."

    Activists on Tuesday argued that human rights in the country have deteriorated since 2008, claiming that the Summer Games "emboldened" China.

    The handover ceremony was to be held without spectators, because of pandemic safety measures, at the renovated ancient marble stadium in Athens where the first modern Olympics were hosted in 1896.

    Three activists were detained Monday after sneaking into the strongly-guarded archaeological site of Ancient Olympia during the flame lighting, waving a banner that read "No genocide games" and a Tibetan flag. Another four were detained outside the site, while two more protesters were detained in Athens on Sunday after a protest on the Acropolis.

    The latter seven have been released, but the first three remain in police custody in southern Greece.

    The Beijing Winter Games will run from Feb. 4-20. Only spectators from mainland China will be allowed to attend.

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