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Sarkozy hints at boycott of Beijing Olympic Games opening ceremony

March 26, 2008

Ashling O’Connor, Olympics Correspondent
Times Online, UK
March 25, 2008


Nicolas Sarkozy today became the first world leader to hint strongly at
a boycott of the Beijing Olympic Games opening ceremony unless China
exercised restraint in quelling protests in Tibet.

The French president, on the eve of a visit to Britain, said “all
options were open” and that he would make a decision whether to attend
the event on August 8 depending on the response of the Chinese authorities.

“Our Chinese friends must understand the worldwide concern that there is
about the question of Tibet,” he said. “I don't close the door to any
option, but I think it's more prudent to reserve my responses to
concrete developments in the situation. I will graduate my response
according to the response given by Chinese authorities.”

A snub by Mr Sarkozy to what has been called China’s “coming out party”
would put pressure on other European leaders to follow suit.

France will hold the rotating EU presidency during the Games while
hosting the Dalai Lama for the first time since 2003 as the spiritual
leader delivers Buddhist lectures in the western city of Nantes.

Gordon Brown still intends to travel to Beijing along with three other
ministers, as does George Bush. Prince Charles, a supporter of the Dalai
Lama, is not attending the Olympics.

It would also heap embarrassment on the Chinese, who are already worried
that the Olympic torch relay – the prelude to the opening ceremony –
will be hijacked by political protestors and human rights activists
along its 85,000-mile route to Beijing.

The torch-lighting ceremony in the ancient city of Olympia was disrupted
yesterday by pro-Tibet protestors. Three people from Reporters Without
Borders (RSF), a Paris-based media freedom group, were arrested after
unfurling a political banner.

The organisation last week appealed for a boycott of the opening
ceremony by heads of state and governments as a way of sending a strong
message to China without asking athletes to throw away years of training
by not competing.

The idea has gained the support of many people in France. Jean-Francois
Julliard, an RSF director and one of those charged by Greek police with
“insulting national symbols”, said: “We feel that things are starting to
get moving, that political leaders are starting to change their attitudes.”

Sponsors too are concerned that the Tibet issue will jeopardise
investments of hundreds of millions of dollars. The sports director at
France’s leading television company suggested it might boycott the Games
if the Chinese government censored or sanitised the footage. “At that
point, the president of France Televisions ... would without a doubt
decide not to cover the Olympic Games,” Daniel Bilalian told Belgium radio.

EU countries are to discuss the crackdown in Tibet at an informal
meeting of foreign ministers starting on Friday in Slovenia. Jean
Asselborn, Luxembourg foreign minister, said staying away from the
opening ceremony would be the “wrong solution”.
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