Saturday, August 9, 2008

Bush on religious freedom

Bush talks with Misty May Treanor, left, and Kerri Walsh as he visits U.S. team practice, 2008 Olympics, 8/9/08 (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert).
President Bush:
No one should fear religious freedom
By Ben Feller (AP, 8/9/08)

BEIJING - President Bush juggled sports, strife and diplomacy Sunday on his whirlwind Olympic adventure.

In a clear reference to China's tight control of churches, Bush emerged from a church service saying no country should "fear the influence" of religious freedom. Switching from leader to Olympics fan, Bush watched as Michael Phelps won the gold in the 400-meter individual medley.

He has been monitoring the military standoff between Russia and Georgia, a former Soviet state. And in an upcoming meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Bush promised to continue pushing China to let its people speak and pray freely without harassment. China says that is a matter it can handle without outside interference.

Bush gestures toward the back of Misty May Treanor as he visits her practice, 8/9/08. At right is teammate Walsh (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert).
Bush's comments after worshipping with first lady Laura Bush came with added punch as he delivered them in the heart of the Chinese capital during Beijing's Olympic spotlight.

"Laura and I just had the great joy and privilege of worshipping here in Beijing, China," he said as parishioners exited to "Onward Christian Soldiers." "You know, it just goes to show that God is universal, and God is love, and no state, man or woman should fear the influence of loving religion."

China allows worship only in officially approved churches such as the one Bush visited with his wife, so millions of people pray privately in house churches to avoid detection. The Chinese government has bristled at Bush's prodding as pointless meddling.

Bush spoke of the great joy he felt while worshipping in the church, where a choir of boys and girls wearing white shirts and Jesus fish pins performed "Amazing Grace" in English and Chinese.

Bush poses with U.S. Women's Beach Volleyball team player Kerri Walsh (R), 8/9/08 (REUTERS/Larry Downing).
Bush entered the Protestant church to sustained applause. The service was delivered nearly entirely in Chinese, but Bush followed along and bowed his head in prayer with a couple hundred other worshippers. His father, former President George H.W. Bush, and the president's daughter, Barbara, also attended the service, which was closely monitored by Chinese security officers wearing earphones.

After church, Bush went to the Water Cube and watched as Michael Phelps set a world record to win his first gold medal of the Olympics, beating rival Ryan Lochte in the 400-meter individual medley with a time of 4 minutes, 3.84 seconds.

Phelps, trying to break Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals, crushed his old mark of 4:05.25 in the 400 IM, set in June at the U.S. Olympic trials.

Bush sat with his wife, daughter and father for the swimming finals. The current president held up a U.S. flag, drawing cheers from American fans sitting on the other side of the 17,000-seat arena. Secret Service agents kept curious onlookers away from the president's seating section, while others strained to get photos of America's first family.

Bush watches a volleyball practice session at Beijing games, 8/9/08 (Carlos Barria/Reuters).
Bush came to Beijing mainly to have fun at the Olympics, has found himself immersed in a conflict with China's neighbor to the north, Russia. A grim and blunt president on Saturday upbraided Moscow over its escalating standoff with Georgia. Bush questioned attacks in parts of Georgia away from South Ossetia, the breakaway province at the center of the fight. He pushed Russia to embrace an international mediation effort by the United States and its European allies.
"The violence is endangering regional peace," Bush said.

His Saturday schedule juxtaposed moments light and somber, sometimes jarringly so.
Bush greets members of the 2008 Olympic Team at Fencing Hall, Beijing 8/8/08 (Larry Downing/Reuters).
He took a rigorous ride on the Olympic mountain biking course, had a try at beach volleyball and laughed it up with members of the U.S. women's softball team. The president enjoyed the sweat-soaked experience of hanging out with athletes in an unscripted way.

Later came the news that a Chinese man had stabbed the in-laws of the U.S. Olympic men's volleyball coach, killing one and injuring the other, and stabbed a tour guide, too. The assailant committed suicide by jumping from the tourist site the Americans were visiting. Bush spoke out on the violent act too, expressing sadness about the stabbing.

As scheduled, Bush then went back to rooting for his country's team. He took off the coat and tie and headed to the basketball arena to watch the U.S. women's team with his family.
Thousands of South Korean Christians and conservative activists shout slogans and wave banners as they take part in a rally at a park in Seoul to welcome Bush. South Korea mounted a massive security operation as Bush arrived for a two-day visit and opponents of American beef imports took to the streets (AFP/Jeon Hyeong-Jin).
Woman holds up placard welcoming Bush during rally in Seoul, South Korea as a massive security operation was mounted Tuesday as Bush arrived for a two-day visit and opponents of American beef imports took to the streets (AFP/Jeon Hyeong-Jin).
Bush plans to meet Hu, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping and Premier Wen Jiabao at the Zhongnanhai Compound, the central government complex. Among the expected topics of discussion were counterterrorism, trade, economic markets, individual freedoms and efforts to halt the nuclear weapons capability of Iran and North Korea. No major announcements were anticipated.

Bush and Hu met just one month ago, at the summit in Japan of the world's economic powers. Standing together, Bush told reporters at the time that he and Hu "have constantly had discussions about human rights and political freedom. He knows my position."

Just in case, Bush has kept on it through his weeklong Asia trip.
Thai-Muslim protesters demonstrate against Bush outside the Queen Sirikit Nat'l Convention Center in Bangkok, 8/7/08 as Bush delivers a speech inside (Sukree Sukplang/Reuters).
In Thailand, Bush said the U.S. firmly opposes China's crackdown on political dissidents and human rights activists. The speech angered China's government, which responded by telling Bush not to intrude in its affairs.

"Only China can decide what course it will follow, but I'm optimistic about the prospects," Bush said in his radio address Saturday, taped in Beijing. "Young people who grow up with freedom in one area of their lives will ultimately demand freedom in other areas."

When Bush's diplomatic meetings with the Chinese leaders end, it's back to the basketball arena. This time it is the men's game between the United States and China.
First lady Laura Bush talks with Sarah Randt, wife of U.S. Ambassador Clark T. Randt, Jr., prior to a dedication ceremony for the new U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China Friday, Aug. 8, 2008. Right of Laura Bush are unidentified woman (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert).

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