Incidents Plague China Days Before Olympics

Demonstrations continue to roil China ahead of the Olympics.

Aug. 5, 2008 — -- Two men scaled 120-foot light posts near the national stadium in Beijing early Wednesday morning and unfurled banners pleading for a free Tibet, the latest in a string of incidents this week in China during the lead-up to the Olympic opening ceremonies Friday.

One banner declared "One World One Dream Free Tibet" and was hung along with the Tibetan flag, and the second read, "Tibet will be free."

The two men, members of the group Students for a Free Tibet, climbed down and identification was checked but no handcuffs were used. Authorities were polite and there was no rough behavior observed by ABC News.

Within 10 minutes of the banners' release, several firetrucks with extended ladders were used to remove them from the light posts.

One climber, who identified himself as Ian from Edinburgh, Scotland, told ABC News via mobile phone while climbing down that he hoped his "skills would be useful to call for a real difference."

He said he entered China with a group from the United Kingdom on a tourist visa.

"I'll probably get detained by the police and then ejected out of the country but I believe it's not anywhere near the risk or the fear that Tibetans are living under the occupation of the Chinese government," he said.

The peaceful banner incident close to the stadium, known as the "Bird's Nest," followed closely on the heels of two violent incidents in China during the last several days.

On Monday, two Japanese journalists were beaten by paramilitary police in Kashgar. The journalists, Masami Kawakita and Shinji Katsuta, were attempting to report on a bombing attack earlier in the week. According to the journalists' organizations and several eyewitnesses, paramilitary police forcibly removed both of them from the street, beat them severely and damaged their equipment.

A bomb blast two days ago killed 16 police officers and injured 16 others in an incident reportedly carried out by two young men from the western Chinese region's Muslim Uighur community. Chinese police arrested the two men allegedly connected to the bombing, which China called a "suspected terrorist" attack.

Locals Unconcerned by Incidents

But on the streets of Beijing, where the Olympics will kick off Friday, many people seemed unconcerned about the potential for attacks, and some who admitted to being afraid said they were heartened by an increased police presence around the city.

Ashley Xiong, a Beijing-based tour administrator with the Chinese Youth Travel Service, wasn't fazed by the recent attacks.

"I feel very safe. ? There is not so much of a difference. Right now I'm touring with 1,400 foreigners in Beijing and Tianjin and we feel quite safe every day," the 25-year-old told ABC News. "Wherever we go, because we are such a big group, we have policemen with us."

While Xiong and other locals appeared to be at ease, recent terrorism seems to have affected the tourism business, including the China Youth Travel Service, one of China's largest travel companies. Some tour groups have scrapped their visits to Beijing entirely.

Approximately 100,000 anti-terrorism troops are expected to be deployed for the Olympics. Police officers monitor every street corner, from major thoroughfares to small residential intersections. Entering any subway station or large building in Beijing, citizens and tourists are greeted with bag inspections and scanning.

Shirley Fan, a legal assistant in Beijing, appreciates the frequent reminders of heightened security.

"I wonder if there will be problems at the Olympics during an event I attend," Fan said. "Then again, I've been a bit concerned the whole time, not just now. But when I see the increased number of police officers, I relax a bit. The government has placed a great importance on our safety."

Fan, who regularly rides the subway, has faith in Beijing's public transportation.

"I'm sure I'm just worrying too much," she told ABC News, "but I don't worry on the subway, it feels normal. Those security exams are quite thorough and if there is someone with something, they will definitely get discovered."

Jon Morales, a New Yorker who previously lived in Beijing for two years and has returned to watch the Olympics, wonders how Chinese authorities will react to potential incidents starting Friday.

"I'm worried about an overreaction by the police," Morales told ABC News. "I think we've seen they're not the most politically sensitive or aware police force in the world and can be pretty heavy handed at times."