Bush mixes sports and politics at Olympics
nirajan | August 9, 2008 at 11:41 pmby
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In an Olympic medley of sports and politics, President Bush on Sunday called for more religious freedom in China, sought an end to an escalating conflict between Russia and Georgia and cheered U.S. athletes as they dribbled and swam for the gold. He also praised Chinese leaders for their swift response to a stabbing attack that killed the father of a 2004 U.S. Olympian. Authorities tightened already-stringent security throughout the Chinese capital, and President Hu Jintao told Bush of China's "profound sympathy" for the victim's family.
"Your government has been very attentive, very sympathetic, and I appreciate that a lot," Bush said.
Todd Bachman, the father of Olympic volleyball player Elisabeth "Wiz" Bachman, was killed Saturday and his wife Barbara was gravely injured as they toured Beijing's 13th-century Drum Tower. The Bachmans of Lakeville, Minn., are in-laws of U.S. men's volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon.
The assailant, identified as Tang Yongming, 47, jumped to his death. The motive for the attack, which also left a tour guide wounded, remained unclear, though officials doubt Tang knew the Bachmans.
The president's meetings with Hu and other Chinese officials at the Zhongnanhai government compound came as Bush monitored deadly clashes between Russia and the former Soviet republic of Georgia, a staunch U.S. ally that Bush wants to see join NATO. The conflict erupted Friday when Georgian troops moved to retake control of South Ossetia, a region bordering Russia that gained de facto independence in 1992.
Bush expressed concern that the attacks were occurring in regions of Georgia that were far from the zone of conflict in South Ossetia. A senior official in Washington said Russia's use of overwhelming military force against Georgia, including strategic bombers and ballistic missiles, was "disproportionate to whatever threat Russia had been citing." The Bush administration official briefed reporters Saturday on condition his name not be used because of the sensitive nature of the situation.
Despite his official duties, Bush has made clear his main role at the Olympics was as America's First Fan.
Sunday was a U.S. sports fan's dream.
Bush and first lady Laura Bush, their daughter, Barbara, and former President George H.W. Bush, cheered from the stands of the Water Cube Olympic swimming venue as American Michael Phelps claimed the first of an expected string of gold medals by smashing his own world record in the 400-meter individual medley.
"God, what a thrill to cheer for you!" Bush told Phelps afterward.
Phelps told reporters he looked up at Bush just moments after winning, and the president nodded.
"That was a pretty cool feeling," he said.
Later, Bush was to watch the U.S. men's basketball team, with NBA stars Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, taking on China, led by center Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets.
Bush's Sunday began with a worship service at Beijing's Kuanjie church, an officially registered Protestant congregation.
A children's choir sang "Amazing Grace" in English and Chinese, but the service was mostly in Chinese. Aides said Bush was helped by a translator.
He exited to the strains of "Onward Christian Soldiers." Speaking to reporters in a driving rain, he alluded to the millions of Chinese who brave harassment and arrest to worship at unregistered "house" churches.
"It just goes to show that God is universal," Bush said. "No state, man or woman should fear the influence of loving religion."
Meeting with Hu, Bush called the church visit "Uplifting ... It was a spirit-filled feeling. As you know, I feel very strongly about religion."
But the mood of the meeting was light, and Bush did not repeat earlier admonitions about China's pre-Olympic crackdown on dissent.
Speaking in Bangkok on the eve of the Olympics and again at Friday's dedication of a U.S. embassy here, Bush insisted China can only reach its full potential by allowing free speech and other freedoms.
Those words and his church visit, which followed a 2005 visit to another official Beijing church, were carefully calibrated to prod the Chinese while deflecting attacks from human rights groups who say Bush's Olympic sojourn lends legitimacy to a repressive communist regime.
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