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Sarkozy refuses to rule out Olympic boycott

PARIS, France (AP) — French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Tuesday that he cannot rule out the possibility he might boycott the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics if China continues its crackdown in Tibet.

Sarkozy has come under increasing pressure to take a stance on the unrest. He said he had not yet made a decision on what to do, but the mere suggestion of a boycott represented a clear threat to Chinese authorities.

A French boycott of the August 8 opening ceremony would have added resonance because France will hold the rotating EU presidency during the August 8-24 Olympic Games.

Asked whether he supported a boycott, Sarkozy said he could not close the door to any possibility. A spokesman for the president confirmed that Sarkozy was referring to a possible snub of the August 8 opening ceremony.

Our Chinese friends must understand the worldwide concern that there is about the question of Tibet, and I will adapt my response to the evolutions in the situation that will come, I hope, as rapidly as possible, the president said during a visit with a military regiment in Tarbes in southwest France.

Violent protests in Tibet, the most serious challenge in almost two decades to China’s rule in the region, are forcing human rights campaigners and governments to re-examine their approach to the Olympic Games.

A Paris-based media freedom group, Reporters Without Borders, last week appealed for an opening ceremony boycott by heads of state and government, as well as royalty — an idea that has gained the support of many French. The issue of athletes boycotting the opening ceremony or the games is not being talked about in France.

In a CSA poll for Liberation newspaper, 53 percent of respondents said they were rather favorable to the idea of Sarkozy staying away from the opening ceremonies. The poll of 959 people by CSA agency for the daily paper was conducted Thursday and Friday. No margin of error was given.

Reporters Without Borders made headlines again Monday when three high-ranking members were arrested at the Olympic flame-lighting ceremony after unfurling a black banner showing the Olympic rings as handcuffs. Jean-Francois Julliard, the group’s research director, welcomed Sarkozy’s comments.

We feel that things are starting to get moving, that political leaders are starting to change their attitudes, Julliard said in a telephone interview Tuesday. He was one of the three arrested in Greece and charged with insulting national symbols.

He said that to his knowledge, Sarkozy was the first world leader to go so far in the boycott discussion. Prince Charles has said he would skip the Olympics.

France has wobbled on how to handle the sensitive issue. Pierre Moscovici, a leader of the opposition Socialists, was quoted in a French newspaper over the weekend as criticizing Sarkozy for a deafening silence about the situation in Tibet.

France’s foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, suggested last week he was open to a boycott of the Beijing Olympics’ opening ceremonies, calling it an interesting idea. Later he backtracked, calling it unrealistic and saying, We’re not in favor of it.

France’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that EU countries are to discuss the crackdown in Tibet at an informal meeting of foreign ministers starting Friday in Slovenia.

Sarkozy said he has told Chinese President Hu Jintao of his concern, asking for restraint and the end of violence through dialogue in Tibet. Sarkozy also disclosed contacts between his office and that of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader.

I have an envoy who spoke to the authorities who are closest to the Dalai Lama, Sarkozy said. I want dialogue to begin, and I will gauge my response based on the response that the Chinese authorities give.

The Dalai Lama will be in France while the games are under way in Beijing. He is coming from Aug. 15-20, principally to deliver Buddhist lectures in the western French city of Nantes, said Wangpo Bashi, secretary of the exiled Tibetan government’s office in Paris. He said no meetings between the Tibetan leader and French government officials are currently planned. It will be the Dalai Lama’s first visit to France since 2003, Bashi said.

Also Tuesday, the sports director at France’s main television company suggested it could consider a boycott if the Chinese government censors the footage.

For the moment, we don’t intend to boycott the games, Daniel Bilalian said on RTL Belgium radio. But, he added, if the games are in any way censored or sanitized by the Chinese authorities … that would obviously put our position in question.

At that point, the president of France Televisions … would without a doubt decide not to cover the Olympic Games, he said. E-mail to a friend

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Sarkozy refuses to rule out Olympic boycott – found here.

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March 25, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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