BEIJING (AFP) — A defiant China stood firm on controversies swirling around the Olympics on Thursday, hitting back at the United States over human rights criticism and insisting Internet censorship would remain.
China's communist rulers responded sternly to critics following a storm of bad publicity this week surrounding their decision to renege on a pledge to allow unfettered Internet access to foreign reporters covering the Games.
The decision highlighted long-standing concerns over the Chinese government's attitude towards human rights, and led the White House to intervene by saying China had "nothing to fear" from the Internet.
The Chinese foreign ministry reacted by criticising a meeting US President George W. Bush had with leading Chinese dissidents and describing some US lawmakers who spoke out on Beijing's human rights record as "odious".
"China asks the US to abide by the basic norms of international relations, stop interfering in the internal affairs of China by means of making use of so-called religious and human rights," ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said.
Liu also hit out at a resolution by the US Congress that urged Beijing to improve on human rights and stop the repression of ethnic minorities.
Liu said the resolution passed Wednesday was an attempt to politicise the Olympics and urged Washington to curb the "odious conduct" of anti-Chinese legislators.
Other governments and media groups also stepped up criticism of China and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) over the Internet censorship.
German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schauble said he was "worried at the fact that (China) has moved away from its commitments" on media freedom.
"As far as we can have an influence, we demand that promises made are kept," Schauble added.
Press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders condemned "the cynicism of the Chinese authorities, who have yet again lied, and the IOC's inability to prevent this situation because of its refusal to speak out for several years."
Olympic organisers said they would not back down, saying banned sites were in breach of Chinese laws.
"A small number of Internet sites are blocked, mainly because they violate Chinese law," Beijing Olympic organising committee spokesman Sun Weide said when asked whether curbs for the foreign press would be lifted.
"We hope that foreign media will respect Chinese law in this matter."
Sun identified sites linked to the Falungong spiritual movement, which is outlawed in China, as ones that would remain censored for the foreign press at Olympic venues.
He and Liu refused to identify any others but reporters trying to surf the Internet at the main press centre for the Games have found a wide array of sites deemed sensitive by China's rulers to be out-of-bounds.
Sites that are blocked include those for human rights group Amnesty International, the Tibet government-in-exile, Reporters Without Borders and various Chinese dissident organisations.
Another irritant for Olympic organisers was the airing by a South Korean TV station of rehearsals for the Games opening ceremony -- an event shrouded in secrecy whose 10,000 performers have been sworn to silence.
"I think it is disappointing that someone comes in there and literally steals one of the most exciting moments of the Games," said Kevan Gosper, an IOC executive board member from Australia.
The Beijing Olympic organising committee said it had launched an investigation.
"We are disappointed and frustrated with the broadcast by SBS," committee spokesman Sun said.
And after two days of marked improvement in the air, the Chinese capital was once again blighted by a thick haze Thursday, suggesting draconian measures to curb car use had not been enough.
The environment ministry on Thursday unveiled a string of potential last-ditch measures that would be enacted if air pollution reached unacceptable standards.
One million of the city's 3.3 million cars have already been taken off the roads, and more than 100 heavily polluting factories and building sites closed down.
But the ministry said around 460,000 more cars would be taken off the roads and another 222 factories temporarily shut down, if necessary.
Measures restricting traffic could also be extended to other nearby cities, the ministry said.
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