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Excitement builds in Beijing

Beijing's Great Hall: the scene of celebration or commiseration?
Beijing's Great Hall: the scene of celebration or commiseration?  

By CNN's Nic Hopkins

BEIJING, China (CNN) -- Beijing is abuzz with reports that a 'spontaneous' celebration involving thousands of people has been planned for Tiananmen Square should the city be selected to host the 2008 Olympics.

An event is said to be scheduled for this evening behind the closed doors of the Great Hall of the People, which stands imposingly on one side of the square.

Speculation is that the event is being timed to finish as close as possible to the scheduled announcement of the 2008 Olympics host city by the International Olympics Committee in Moscow.

Beijing is considered the favorite among the five bidding cities, ahead of nearest rivals Toronto and Paris. Osaka and Istanbul are considered outside chances at best.

Local rumor and media reports say should China be selected for the first time to host an Olympics, the assembled thousands inside the Great Hall of the People will spill out onto Tiananmen Square flying Chinese flags and carrying Beijing 2008 banners.

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If Beijing bid loses, the thousands would be spirited away from the square away from the eyes of international media.

Among those said to be taking part in the event are senior Communist Party officials, rank and file party members as well as workers from local companies.


Tiananmen Square was more crowded than usual on Friday, with thousands of Beijingers milling around in excitement hours before the announcement by the IOC announcement.

"We are very hopeful that Beijing will be selected," said local resident Wang Guanlin. "We think this is our time, but there is a chance we might not win so we must not get too excited yet."

Burnt by their failed bid in 1993 for the 2000 Olympics, won by Sydney, Beijing city officials have maintained a low-key approach to the 2008 bid.

Although Beijing 2008 bid banners can be seen in prominent places, there has been little fanfare about the city in the lead-up to the Moscow announcement.

Much more attention has been paid to last minute lobbying of IOC delegates and preparations for the final bid presentation to the IOC this evening.

Many Beijingers feel their city has earned the right to host the Olympics after years of trying, and because of its status as capital of the world's most populous nation.

They also point out that by 2008 it will have been 20 years since the Olympics was last held in Asia. Seoul hosted the 1988 games.

Heavy criticism

The Beijing bid has also attracted heavy criticism from many sectors, with most focusing attention on China's poor human rights record.

Human rights groups recently showed evidence that China executes more people every year than any other nation, and they complain bitterly about China's treatment of Tibet and of the Falun Gong movement.

But city officials say they have the support of 95 per cent of local resident, which they say gives it the highest approval rating of all bidding cities.

But there are some dissenters in the midst of those who want the games in China.

"I would be very unhappy if the Olympics come to Peking [Beijing] because the government would drain money from all the other provinces to pay for improvements in Peking," said resident Zhang Jing.

Some dissent

Zhang, who is from Guangxi province but moved to Beijing four years ago, also said he feared the police would tighten their restrictions on human rights to maintain political stability leading up to 2008.

"I think they would remove people who are not from Beijing, send them home, and they would hide all the homeless and dirty people," he said.

City officials say they have budgeted some $22 billion in improvements to Beijing over the next seven years.

There is little fear of unrest should Beijing fail in its quest for the 2008 games, although advocates of the Beijing bid say it might help to drive a wedge between China and the West at a particularly sensitive time for East-West diplomacy.

• Beijing 2008
• International Olympic Committee

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