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BOCOG Shocked as Taiwan Rejects Olympic Torch
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The Organizing Committee for the Beijing Olympic Games (BOCOG) on Friday called a news conference where BOCOG executive vice president and spokesperson Jiang Xiaoyu spoke on Taipei's decision to reject being a stop on the Olympic torch's journey, expressing the dismay and disappointment this decision has caused.

"Last night BOCOG announced the planned route of the Beijing Olympic Games torch relay, which had been approved by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and the arrangement of the route strictly follows the Olympic Charter and the relevant rules and regulations of the IOC," he said.

BOCOG learned from media reports that Taiwanese authorities along with the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee had back-tracked on an earlier pledge to welcome the torch and had now rejected any chance of it passing through the island, said Jiang.

The arrival of the Olympic torch in Taipei had been a source of much anticipation by our Taiwanese compatriots who have made their feelings heard in many ways, he added.

Original invitations by BOCOG to various Olympic committees, under whose jurisdiction the torch will pass, went out in November 2006. The original response from the island province was positive with Tsai Chen-wei, chairman of the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee, accepting the invitation on December 28, 2006.

The procedures were further confirmed in March when Tsai contacted BOCOG to confirm Taipei would welcome the flame on April 30 and May 1, welcoming it from Vietnam before sending it on to Hong Kong.

However, this positive attitude was dimmed suddenly on April 20 when a letter from Tsai made an unusual request – that the torch enter and leave Taiwan through third-party nations – effectively nixing earlier plans to see the torch move on to Hong Kong from Taipei.

Tsai blamed "issues beyond our sports community's control" for the change, adding a politically-charged statement that "Taiwan's status as an independent sovereign state would be degraded if the Olympic flame travels to Hong Kong via Taipei, so my authorities request that the relay enter into Taipei and exit Taipei through third-party countries.'

This decision being effectively in breach of agreements signed by both sides, BOCOG expressed its astonishment stating the request as "going against the consensus reach by both sides as well as going back on Taipei's earlier written confirmation."

On April 26, BOCOG held a lavish ceremony in Beijing and unveiled both the scroll-inspired torch and the route through which it will travel. The route is set to take the torch to every part of China and was planned to go from Taipei to Hong Kong. However, less than two hours after this announcement, Taiwan authorities dropped this bombshell, marring the fallout of what was otherwise a heart-warming and auspicious event.

Jiang further criticized the move for being in violation of the Olympic Charter and the IOC's principle of keeping sports and politics firmly apart. He called the Olympic flame "the symbol of Olympic spirit, and the Olympic torch relay is a grand celebration of mankind that represents peace and friendship."

He left the door open for Taipei to change its standpoint saying that "we still hope that the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee and its authorities will focus on the interests of our Taiwan compatriots and the Olympic Movement, and make good the consensus the two parties have reached and the route that has been confirmed. Therefore, the good wishes of our Taiwan compatriots to participate in the Olympic torch relay will come true."

Criticisms rained down on Taiwan authorities from their own opposition parties, ridiculing claims from Taiwan independence advocates that the plan would "belittle Taiwan".

Yok Mu-ming, chairman of the New Party, blamed electoral opportunism for the decision, saying that authorities thought the plan might give them a poll boost.

"The Taiwan masses will never support that (rejection)," Yok said during a visit to the Olympic sites in Beijing ahead of a mainland-Taiwan cooperation forum.

He said ordinary people in Taiwan had been elated when Beijing was awarded the 2008 Olympic Games with many planning to make the journey across the Taiwan Straits to enjoy the show.

"Taiwan people's enthusiasm for the Beijing Olympics will never ebb," Yok said.

Kuan Chung, vice chairman of the Kuomintang, echoed Yok saying that hosting the Olympics was "a glory for all Chinese" and that "politics should never intrude this event."

(Xinhua News Agency April 28, 2007)

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