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US lawmakers: Bush should skip Olympics
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    BEIJING — Two Republican congressmen have called on President Bush to steer clear of the Beijing Olympics unless China makes substantial improvements in its treatment of dissidents, including releasing prisoners of conscience.
    Chris Smith of New Jersey and Frank Wolf of Virginia spoke Tuesday on a visit to Beijing during which security agents blocked a group of dissidents from dining with them.
    The two men told reporters such interference underscores what many activists and monitoring groups say is a deterioration of human rights ahead of the games, despite past assurances from Beijing that holding them would give a boost to China’s rights protections.
    ‘‘Unless there’s tremendous progress over the next month, whereby they release some of these prisoners, I personally do not think the president should attend, nor do I think the secretary of state should attend the Olympics,’’ said Smith, a ranking member on the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.
    Fan Yafeng, a legal scholar and researcher at the official Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said he was among those invited to Sunday’s dinner with the congressmen, but decided not to attend after receiving a phone call from police telling him not go.
    ‘‘This type of situation is not uncommon, we often experience similar restraints on our freedoms,’’ Fan said.
    ‘‘We are worried that human rights violations may even worsen after the Olympics are over because the world won’t be watching us closely anymore,’’ Fan said. ‘‘It’s a scary thought.’’
    The White House has made clear that Bush intends to go to China in August for the games but has not said when. ‘‘We have not announced the president’s schedule yet,’’ said White House deputy press secretary Gordon Johndroe.
    Some world leaders have said they might boycott the Aug. 8 opening ceremony to protest the most recent Chinese security crackdown in Tibetan areas of China. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he would attend if talks this week between China and the envoys of the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, made progress.
    Some experts believe Beijing is agreeing to the discussions, previous rounds of which have produced little of substance, mainly to ease criticism ahead of the games.
    Smith and Wolf said they presented a list of 734 political prisoners to Li Zhaoxing, chairman of the national legislature’s Foreign Affairs Committee and a former foreign minister. Smith said they asked Li to work for the prisoners’ release.
    While praising China’s economic progress, he said that such gains were made amid rights abuses and foreign policy stances that helped shore up repressive regimes in Sudan and elsewhere.
    ‘‘Their government just doesn’t have a very good record,’’ said Wolf, who like Smith has long been active on Chinese human rights issues. Both men said the U.S. administration needs to publicly air complaints and identify imprisoned dissidents, saying private closed-door discussions were failing to produce results.
    Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a network of activists and rights monitoring groups, said Fan and eight others were warned away from or prevented from attending the dinner. The rights group said lawyer Li Baiguang was detained in a Beijing suburb for three days and Teng Biao, a lecturer at the China University of Political Science and Law, was placed under house arrest.
    Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao appeared to turn the blame on the two legislators, saying their visit was supposed to be focused on meetings with U.S. Embassy officials.
    ‘‘We hope the U.S. congressmen, while making a visit to China, while conducting relevant activities, respect Chinese laws and regulations and respect their commitments,’’ Liu told reporters.
    Asked repeatedly what rules had been violated, Liu merely repeated his earlier remarks.

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