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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Merkel says she will not attend opening of Beijing Olympics

April 1, 2008

Ian Traynor in Brussels and Jonathan Watts in Beijing
The Guardian,
March 29 2008

This article appeared in the Guardian on Saturday March 29 2008 on p21
of the International section. It was last updated at 00:13 on March 29 2008.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, yesterday became the first world
leader to decide not to attend the Olympics in Beijing.

As pressure built for concerted western protests to China over the
crackdown in Tibet, EU leaders prepared to discuss the crisis for the
first time today, amid a rift over whether to boycott the Olympics.

The disclosure that Germany is to stay away from the games' opening
ceremonies in August could encourage President Nicolas Sarkozy of France
to join in a gesture of defiance and complicate Gordon Brown's
determination to attend the Olympics.

Donald Tusk, Poland's prime minister, became the first EU head of
government to announce a boycott on Thursday and he was promptly joined
by President Václav Klaus of the Czech Republic, who had previously
promised to travel to Beijing.

"The presence of politicians at the inauguration of the Olympics seems
inappropriate," Tusk said. "I do not intend to take part."

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany's foreign minister, confirmed that
Merkel was staying away. He added that neither he nor Wolfgang Schäuble,
the interior minister responsible for sport, would attend the opening
ceremony.

Hans-Gert Pöttering, the politician from Merkel's Christian Democratic
party who chairs the European parliament, encouraged talk of an Olympic
boycott this week and invited the Dalai Lama to address the chamber in
Strasbourg, while another senior German Christian Democrat, Ruprecht
Polenz, said a boycott should remain on the table.

"I cannot imagine German politicians attending the opening or closing
ceremonies [if the Tibetan crackdown continued]," he said. Merkel
enraged the Chinese leadership a few months ago by receiving the Dalai
Lama in Berlin for private talks.

Brown is to meet the Tibetan spiritual leader when he visits Britain in
May, but is determined to be in Beijing. "We are fully engaged in
supporting the Olympics," said David Miliband, the foreign secretary.
"We want to see it as a success, and I think it's right that the prime
minister represents us."

While announcing that German leaders were staying away from Beijing,
Steinmeier denied they were boycotting or staging a political protest
against the Chinese military and police campaign in Tibet and
surrounding areas.

While expressing scepticism about a complete boycott, he did not rule
one out. "This is not the right moment to talk about a boycott ... We
should watch how the Chinese government deals with the situation in the
next weeks and months."

If Merkel and others do not attend the opening ceremony, it is likely to
reinforce a growing sense in China that the Olympics is being used to
vilify the host.

China had hoped to use the games to highlight its economic development
and growing openness. But it is increasingly proving an opportunity for
critics to bash China's one-party political system, human rights abuses,
treatment of minorities and tightly controlled media.

The Tibet crisis has been pushed on to the agenda of a meeting of
European foreign ministers in Slovenia, with the French, who will be
presiding over the EU during the Olympics, calling for a team of
European officials to be dispatched to China on a fact-finding mission.

British and US diplomats were among a group of outside officials allowed
to travel yesterday to Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, for the first time
since the crisis erupted a fortnight ago.

The EU foreign ministers are to discuss the China quandary at lunch in
Slovenia today, with calls being made for a common European position.

"We don't support a boycott and don't intend to boycott the opening of
the games," a British Foreign Office spokesman said. "None of the 27 [EU
states] are calling for a boycott yet."

The French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, has described the boycott
proposal as "interesting", while Sarkozy this week hedged his bets and
said his attendance depended on China's conduct.
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