ALISON STEWART, Host:
The Olympic Torch arrived in Beijing today, Monday, March 31st, to great fanfare and little else, according this CNN reporter.
CNN: Was there any sign at all? Any indication at all of any kind of Tibet protest?
CNN: Not a one, no-one, zilch, zero. How can I say it? Nothing to be seen. I mean, this was clamped-down like you could not believe. In fact, if you looked at those pictures of Tiananmen Square, which is a sprawling piece of real estate right here in the heart of Beijing, thousands and thousands and thousands of people can cram into that square. But if you weren't invited, if you were just an ordinary Joe Average citizen here in Beijing, well, you were basically told, go away.
STEWART: Hi, Shai.
SHAI OSTER: How are you doing?
STEWART: I'm great. So, you just heard that reporter form CNN. The Olympic Torch arrived on Chinese soil, everything very tightly, heavily scripted, not a hair out of place. Was your trip to Lhasa under the same kind of conditions and control?
OSTER: That everything we had been told was lies, alleging that hundreds of the monks had been arrested and what not, and that certainly came as - at least it appeared like it came as a big surprise to our government handlers, who kind of tried to pull us away as quickly as possible.
STEWART: When you say "government handlers," can you describe for people what it is they wanted you to see and how they went about making sure you saw it?
OSTER: Now we are going to go and wonder off on our own and see what we find without two busloads of other journalists, police accompaniment, and a gaggle of government officials. They weren't too pleased with that. They didn't stop us, they tried to discourage us, and at least on several occasions, they also followed us on foot and on car. It was pretty tough to get, sort of, off the government's itinerary.
STEWART: What do you think that you saw, Shai, that was off the government's itinerary?
OSTER: Well, obviously, those monks were pretty much way off the government's itinerary.
STEWART: Sure. Sure.
OSTER: When we went off - during the day, the city seemed almost normal, but at night, all of a sudden, there were guards everywhere. To try to travel within the Tibetan quarter, you need to have your papers checked at every street corner. It was just clearly a place under lockdown.
STEWART: Now, did you see any evidence that the protesters are indeed violent? Rioters targeting the Han Chinese, as the Chinese authorities and government has suggested?
OSTER: Or symbols of Chinese authority, such as schools, or a government affiliated hotel that was actually run by a Tibetan. There was a lot of anger here, and to say that it's a riot doesn't discount that maybe the government's reaction was excessive. Both stories can be true. Unfortunately, it was very hard for us to find out what the truth of the government reaction.
STEWART: I want to go back to the Torch for just a minute, because it's a public stage right now. Germany's Angela Merkel and the Czech president said they are not going to go to the Opening Ceremonies. You've got this Torch out there for the next 130 days, and once it gets out of Chinese rule and authority, I mean, out of their control, the message gets out of their control as well. What are they doing to try to control the message once this Torch is out of their jurisdiction?
OSTER: Sudan, the Tibet issue, I think they honestly had no idea. The other thing is that this Olympic relay is the most ambitious ever as I've - or at least, among the most ambitious ever.
STEWART: Yeah, it is.
OSTER: They are really putting themselves out there. Like, why take the risk?
STEWART: Good question.
OSTER: But it's part of their - you know, they want to show here we are, we're a grown up nation, and maybe they will handle it well.
STEWART: Shai Oster is a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. Thank you so much for speaking with us from Beijing.
OSTER: Thank you.
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