LONDON: French President Nicolas Sarkozy left open Tuesday the possibility of boycotting the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony over China’s crackdown in Tibet, though other major world leaders vowed to attend.
The White House said that US President George W. Bush still planned to be present for the August 8 opening of the Olympics, and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s office said he would be there for the closing ceremony on August 24.
But Sarkozy spoke out amid growing political calls for stronger action against the deadly crackdown on anti-Chinese protests in Tibet.
Even countries opposing any boycott have urged China to show restraint handling the demonstrations. Tibet’s exiled leaders said 140 people have been killed in the unrest over the past two weeks, while China said there have been 20 deaths.
Sarkozy, who arrives in Britain for a two-day visit later on Wednesday, said “all options are open” regarding a boycott. He appealed to the “sense of responsibility” of China’s leaders over the unrest.
The president’s aides specified that France was still considering the possibility of snubbing the opening ceremony, but ruled out boycotting the entire Games.
Alain Bernard, the new French swimming star who set three world records at the European championships, backed a protest of the opening ceremony. “It would send a strong signal to the politicians,” he told TF1 television.
It was also announced that the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, would visit France during the Olympics.
Other countries remained firmly against any boycott.
“The last I checked with the president, no, our position remains that we believe that the purpose of the Olympics is to let international athletes come together and showcase their talents,” said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.
US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack made similar comments, saying, “I’ll reiterate our view, and that is that the Olympics is an important international sporting event.”
Another US political leader, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, rejected the boycott calls.
“I am not in favour of a boycott of the Olympic Games. The Olympic Games are a sporting event,” she told reporters in Barcelona, the Europa Press news agency reported.
In Britain, which will host the 2012 Olympics, Downing Street said Prime Minister Brown was still planning to attend the Beijing closing ceremony.
Other politicians called for mass demonstrations when the Olympic torch passes through London on April 6, and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the country would allow Tibet protestors to stage a demonstration when the Olympic torch passes through London.
But Miliband argued for moderation over Tibet, saying “the danger is that people give up on that (peaceful) course and turn to a more violent course of action.”
Australia, Germany and Japan have ruled out boycotting the Olympics while urging the Chinese authorities to show restraint. Germany’s government said China and the Dalai Lama should reach a peaceful resolution to the crisis.
After protests marred the lighting of the Olympic torch in Greece on Monday, Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith promised safe passage for the torch relay when it comes to Canberra on April 24.
“If people want to peacefully protest about the torch or the Olympics or Tibet, that is what Australian society or New Zealand society is all about, but they should do that in a sensible and peaceful way,” Smith said.
Japan rejected calls for a boycott, but Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura said: “For China’s own sake, it is best to be as open and transparent as possible” handling protests.
Other countries, including Italy, Poland, Spain and Switzerland have said they have no plans to boycott any part of the Olympics.
China meanwhile condemned protests surrounding the torch relay around the world, after three members of the French-based Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reports Without Borders – RSF) disrupted the lighting of the torch ceremony at Ancient Olympia on Monday.
One unfurled a banner demanding a boycott of the Games and another tried to grab the microphone from the chief Chinese Games organiser as he gave a speech.
Two Nobel peace prize winners weighed in Tuesday. South African anti-apartheid hero Desmond Tutu called for China to engage with the Dalai Lama, saying the spiritual leader defined “non-violence and compassion and goodness.”
Costa Rica President Oscar Arias, who won the 1987 Nobel peace prize for his efforts to bring peace to Central America and is a friend of the Dalai Lama, said he was against a boycott of the Games. He said “dialogue between civilised people” was needed.
Meanwhile Cuba’s government, which has important trade links with China, said it was “strongly opposed to any intention to interfere in China’s internal affairs.”
And Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said that unrest in Tibet was part of a US plan aimed at boycotting the Olympics.
“The violence in Tibet is the product of a plan of aggression of the United States against China, and in short term, try to boycott the Olympic Games,” Chavez said at a meeting of foreign correspondents in Caracas.
“Venezuela supports with passion the celebration of these games,” he said. – AFP/ac
Channel News Asia