ATHENS (Reuters) - Hundreds of human rights activists from across the world gathered in central Athens on Thursday to launch a global torch relay urging the boycott of the 2008 Beijing Olympics over China's human rights record.
Beijing has been under fire for what groups say are extensive human rights violations, including against the spiritual group Falun Gong, ahead of next year's Games.
China classified Falun Gong as a cult and banned it in 1999. Since then the group has campaigned from abroad against what it says is brutal persecution of its followers in China.
Organizers of the event in the central Syntagma square, the Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong (CIPFG), said Beijing was involved in systematic "organ harvesting" from jailed Falun Gong members and other dissidents.
"We want to put enough pressure on China to stop killing its people and selling livers and kidneys to people around the world," former Canadian junior foreign minister David Kilgour told Reuters.
Kilgour, co-author of a report on Chinese "organ harvesting," said the International Olympic Committee was turning a blind eye to violations of its own charter.
IOC President Jacques Rogge on Monday fended off criticism saying the Games were a force for good but were no panacea.
"That's garbage," said Kilgour. "Jacques Rogge should know what the Olympic charter states. It talks about human dignity."
The global human rights torch relay will stop over in 25 countries and more than 100 cities in Europe, Asia, North America and Australia, organizers said.
Among the speakers were former Olympic athletes, including the 2006 Olympics luge bronze medalist Martins Rubenis from Latvia.
"The Chinese Communist Party has not fulfilled the promise to adjust the situation of human rights," Rubenis said.
Beijing marked the one-year countdown to the Games on Wednesday with spectacular celebrations in Tiananmen Square.