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China: Looming Beijing Olympics Cause Strains In Host Country

The National Stadium under construction in Beijing in January 2007 (epa) June 6, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- As China's preparations for the 2008 Olympic Games proceed at full steam, a new study estimates that as many as 1.5 million people are being moved from their homes because of the games.

Such statistics could embarrass the Chinese government, which wants the event to showcase China's progress and achievements. Meanwhile, another East Asian country has gained a clear advantage in the race to host the 2014 winter Olympics.

The Geneva-based rights group, the Center on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), says in a report that as preparations go forward for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, some 1.5 million people are being displaced from their homes.

The report says those worst affected by the preparations are typically the poor, whose neighborhoods are demolished to make way for giant sports facilities and infrastructure.

COHRE's executive director, Jean du Plessis, says it is "shocking" and "entirely deplorable" that so many people are being displaced, in violation of their right to adequate housing.

"It is one of the most traumatic things that can happen to a family or community other than a wartime invasion," du Plessis says. "It is well documented that the trauma suffered as a result of forced evictions is right up there with some of the worst events which happen to communities."

COHRE says some of the evictions in Beijing are forced, and he questions the adequacy of the compensation offered by the government. Du Plessis said the statistics on displacement used in COHRE's report have been endorsed by the Beijing city government.

Crowded Out

In a first reaction, Chinese officials called the COHRE report groundless and the figures grossly inflated.

The problem of displacement does not relate to Beijing alone. Mega-size sporting events often leave a negative legacy for local populations. For instance, COHRE's study estimates that around 750,000 people were forcibly relocated to make way for the 1988 Olympics in the South Korean capital, Seoul.

"There is an immense uncalculated social cost, with the networks and survival strategies of the poor being destroyed and disrupted," du Plessis says. "And then invariably they get moved much further away from their livelihood opportunities, which has a huge impact for them. It takes years to resolve."

Figures show that house prices and rents rise steeply wherever areas have been redeveloped for the Olympics, or other large sporting events, such as football championships, or even meetings of big international bodies like the World Bank.

Du Plessis says no sporting event should be allowed to lead to the forceful eviction of communities.

He calls for increased awareness of the problem from urban planners, and expresses pleasure that the IOC has agreed to attend a conference organized by COHRE on the subject. There is no word that Chinese officials will attend.

He also praises the organizers of the 2010 winter Olympics in western Canada:

"We are very encouraged by signs of the city of Vancouver's preparations for the coming winter Olympics, where there is a strong emphasis on the social impact of the event, and a number of processes in motion whereby the city tries to ensure it will not be negative," du Plessis says.

Another Asian Bid

Despite the controversy and expense of hosting the Olympics, there is no shortage of enthusiastic candidate cities.

The South Korean resort town of PyeongChang is jubilant after an assessment by a panel of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) this week gave it the best marks for its bid to host the 2114 winter Olympics.

PyeongChange lies at an altitude of 700 meters in the Taebbeak mountains, and receives thick snow over a long winter, despite today's worldwide trend toward receding snowlines.

The evaluation panel rated the Korean resort's bid as better than that of its rivals: the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi and Salzburg in Austria.

The panel's conclusions come just a month before the IOC full assembly votes to pick the winner, and PyeongChang must now be considered the firm favorite.

If it does win, it will be the third Asian city to host the winter Olympics. Only two previous winter games have been held outside Europe or North America -- at Sapporo in Japan in 1972 and at Nagano, Japan, in 1998.

Meanwhile, the official logo for the 2012 summer Olympics in London has been unveiled to some controversy.

The logo consists of five jagged shapes arranged in a loose mosaic, with the Olympic rings on one of them. Lord Sebastian Coe, British organizing committee chairman and former Olympic running champion, praised the logo as "visionary."

But a British Conservative member of parliament, Bob Neill, described it simply as "hideous."

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