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Beijing to host 2008 Olympic Games

Celebrations began in Beijing after the IOC decided to give China the 2008 Olympic games

(Keystone)

The Chinese capital, Beijing, has been awarded the right to host the 2008 Olympic Games, despite fierce opposition by human rights activists. It will be the first time the world's most populous country has ever staged the world's premiere sporting event.

The International Olympic Committee picked Beijing over rival bids from Toronto, Paris, Istanbul and Osaka.

IOC officials said China deserved to host the Games because it has been a rising sports power since rejoining the Games in 1984, after a 32-year absence. Many IOC members had argued that the Olympics would promote positive change in China.

In a statement released on Friday, the Swiss foreign ministry called the IOC's decision "an important signal", but pointed out China's human rights record.

"Switzerland hopes China will do everything it can to improve its integration at an international level, particularly with regard to human rights."

The IOC decision was immediately slammed by the Tibetan government-in-exile, which said it would encourage repression.

"We deeply regret that Beijing has been awarded the Games. This will put the stamp of international approval on Beijing's human rights abuses and will encourage China to escalate its repression."

Amnesty International said China now had to improve its human rights policies. "The Chinese government must prove it is worthy of staging the Games by upholding the Olympic spirit of fair play and extending respect for universal, fundamental, ethical principles to the people of China."

Beijing failed by just two votes to win the nomination for the 2000 Summer Games and had shown great determination to succeed this time around. The Chinese government spared no expense with its commitment to sink $14 billion into the venture.

China won the second round of a secret ballot with 56 votes. Toronto got 22, Paris 18, and Istanbul nine. Osaka was eliminated in the first round.

A Swiss member of the IOC, René Fasel, told swissinfo that he had not personally voted for Beijing, but that he was positive about the decision.

"I hope that we can bring something positive out of Beijing's victory... We have to look forward - it will be a great challenge for the Olympic movement to go to China, to bring the values we have in the Olympic movement to Beijing."

Another Swiss member of the IOC, Marc Hodler, said most IOC members hoped their choice would give China an opportunity to become more open.

"Most IOC members thought about the future of the world's population, and realised they couldn't leave one-fifth standing in a corner", Hodler said. "Paris had the most elegant dossier, but it seems that having the best sport candidature isn't sufficient anymore", he concluded.

Beijing's bid was known to have the support of the outgoing IOC president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, who went on record to say he wanted China to host the games.

The Swiss Olympic Committee is expected to decide later in the year whether to put forward a bid from either the mountain resort of Davos or the Swiss capital, Bern, to host the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Friday's vote is to be followed on Monday by the election of a new IOC president to replace Samaranch, who is stepping down after 21 years at the helm.

Five candidates are vying to become only the eighth president in the committee's history, with Belgium's Jacques Rogge and South Korean diplomat Un Yong Kim tipped as frontrunners.

In Switzerland, attention will be focused on the former Swiss defence and sports minister, Adolf Ogi, who is standing for a place on the committee. But as Switzerland already has five elected members, Ogi is likely to face opposition from IOC members who feel the country is already over-represented.

swissinfo with agencies


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