July 10, 2008

Tibet: No boycott: Sarkozy to attend Olympics opener

Sample ImageNicolas Sarkozy has confirmed his attendance at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, after months of demanding progressive dialogue between Beijing and Tibet.

 

Below is an article published by The Associated Press:

RUSUTSU, Japan (AP) — French President Nicolas Sarkozy will attend the Beijing Olympics' opening ceremony next month [August], his office said Wednesday [9 July 2008], ending a boycott threat and seeking to soothe Chinese irritation over French support of Tibet.

Sarkozy was the first world leader to raise the possibility of boycotting the festivities to protest China's violent crackdown on Tibet after riots and protests there in March [2008]. A snub would have been a slap in the face to China's communist leadership.

After keeping the threat alive for months, Sarkozy on Wednesday [9 July 2008] reassured Chinese President Hu Jintao that he would attend the Aug. 8 [2008] ceremony, his office said. The two men spoke on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit of industrialized powers in Japan.

Sarkozy has pressed for dialogue between envoys of China and the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, saying that he could attend the event if the discussions made more progress. International pressure has built on both China and the Dalai Lama for an easing of tensions, and their talks are important to China's hopes of hosting a flawless Olympics.

But there was no mention of Tibet, human rights or the Dalai Lama in the brief statement from Sarkozy's office.

"The chief of state stressed the Olympic values of peace, friendship and brotherhood, and wished great success to the Beijing Olympic Games," Sarkozy's office said.

The statement added that France wants to "deepen its strategic partnership with China," a major client for European plane manufacturer Airbus, as well as French companies from nuclear giant Areva to transport and engineering company Alstom.

The Dalai Lama is expected to visit France in August [2008]. Sarkozy has said in the past that it is "possible" he might meet with the Tibetan leader, though China disapproves of such contacts.

But Sarkozy's office refused to discuss the sensitive issue Wednesday [9 July 2008], saying it had to be "discreet." An Elysee Palace official traveling with Sarkozy said Chinese and French officials had mutually agreed not to communicate on that question.

The announcement came as news outlets reported that China's ambassador to Paris warned of "serious consequences" if Sarkozy met the Dalai Lama. Le Figaro newspaper, which printed the ambassador's comments, reported that business contracts were at stake, including the sale of more than 100 Airbus planes.

Like Sarkozy, President Bush will attend the Olympics opener: He said this week at the summit in Japan that it would be an "affront to the Chinese people" if he stayed away. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said he would skip the opening ceremony but attend the closing ceremony.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel does not plan to attend, but Sarkozy's office said she supported his decision, saying it was important to have an European Union representative there. Sarkozy's office said he consulted his EU partners, and he will represent both France and the European bloc at the Games. France currently holds the rotating EU presidency.

Sarkozy and other world leaders have been under intense pressure from human rights groups to skip the event, a 3 1/2-hour extravaganza of fireworks, dancing by ethnic groups and performances portraying 5,000 years of Chinese history.

Media advocacy group Reporters without Borders said recently that Sarkozy, who has pledged to defend human rights since his election last year, would heap "scorn on his commitments to the French people" if he attended.

Reporters without Borders was among the organizers of massive protests when the Olympic flame passed through Paris in April [2008]. Many Chinese were shocked that a pro-Tibet protester in Paris tried to grab the Olympic torch from a Chinese athlete in a wheelchair. Anger reverberated in China, with protests organized at outlets of the French retailer Carrefour.

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