TV presenter Huq set to pull out of Olympic torch relay

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Indy Politics

The television presenter Konnie Huq is on the brink of pulling out of her role in the Olympic torch relay in response to China's crackdown on Tibetan protesters.

The former Blue Peter presenter said she was struggling with her conscience after hearing the extent of the human rights abuses in Tibet. "China has a lot to answer for, and I've been struggling with it; obviously I condemn what they're doing," she said. "I'm definitely wavering".

The presenter, who left the children's television programme in January after 10 years, said that if she did take part in the relay she would use it as an opportunity to speak out against China's actions. "I think the situation is terrible, and I think that anyone who is doing [the relay] should speak out on their views," she said. "It would be embarrassing for China if anyone taking part took a stand but still ran."

Huq, 32, is one of many celebrities and Olympians billed to take part in the Olympic torch relay as it passes through London on 6 April. Other torch-bearers include the Olympic gold medallist Dame Kelly Holmes, the violinist Vanessa Mae and the news presenter Sir Trevor MacDonald.

So far, no one else has said they are considering a boycott, but the Olympic swimming gold medallist Duncan Goodhew condemned China's actions. "I'm appalled with what's going on in Darfur and Tibet, and that the Chinese have not yet embraced the freedoms we have," he said. "We need to encourage the Chinese as seriously as we can to come into the modern world, but I think a boycott would be a futile gesture."

Anti-China demonstrations which began in the Tibetan capital Lhasa more than two weeks ago have seen 140 people killed, according to human rights groups. The violent clashes between police and protesters have sparked outcry around the world.

The Foreign Office has condemned Beijing for its actions, but the Government has shown no signs of using the Olympics to make this point. Gordon Brown said: "We will not be boycotting the Olympic Games. Britain will be attending the Olympic Games ceremonies."

The Prime Minister was speaking at a press conference with the French President Nicholas Sarkozy, who reiterated a statement that he was still considering a boycott. He said he would use the next few months "to try to pacify the situation", adding: "I reserve the right to decide whether I will attend the opening ceremony."

In total 80 people will be taking the Olympic torch on the London leg of its 137,000km journey to Beijing next week, and Huq's remarks will be yet another blow to China's reputation ahead of the games. Huq said that if she did take part she was considering wearing a "free Tibet" T-shirt during her leg.

Anne Holmes, of Free Tibet UK, said she was delighted with the presenter's stance. "The fact that Konnie Huq is speaking out about Tibet makes the point that China can't use the Olympics as an excuse for a big coming-out party when what's going on in Tibet is beyond the pale," she said. "We hope she will say something about the Chinese torch going through Tibet, which is now frankly obscene."

Kristyan Benedict, of Amnesty International, said: "With dissenters silenced within China it's more important than ever that pressure comes from outside the country. We'd encourage anyone involved in the Games to find out what's really happening in China and to consider speaking out against human rights abuses."

*The BBC said yesterday it had called in the police after files holding details of its staff who will cover to the Beijing Olympics went missing. The folders, with addresses, passport numbers, pictures, and hotel details of more than 430 staff, vanished from Television Centre in west London. The BBC said it feared that the files had been stolen, possibly for identity theft.