Calls for boycott of Olympic opening ceremony

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The Independent Online

Calls for an EU-wide boycott of the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games have now won the support of the president of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pöttering.

Mr Pöttering is the most senior Western politician to argue in favour of an Olympic protest if the Chinese government continues with its hardline response to unrest in Tibet.

Speaking ahead of a European Parliament debate this week on the crisis, Mr Pöttering told Germany's Bild am Sonntag newspaper "boycott measures" could be justified if the Chinese failed to negotiate a "compromise" with the Tibetan protest leaders.

His intervention has raised the political temperature and heightened the prospect of a European boycott. The idea of European politicians boycotting the opening ceremony of the Olympics was mentioned last week by the French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, although he later backed away from the idea.

The US House of Representatives speaker, Nancy Pelosi, voiced strong criticism of the Chinese government on Friday during a meeting with the Dalai Lama, saying that events in Tibet were "a challenge to the conscience of the world".

Taiwan's President-elect Ma Ying-jeou said on Sunday after his landslide election victory that the Dalai Lama would be welcome to visit the island and repeated comments that Taiwanese athletes might not take part in the Olympics if the situation in Tibet worsens.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Joseph Zen, the highest-ranking Chinese cleric in the Roman Catholic Church, called on China to avoid acts of violence that might spoil its hosting of the Olympics.

Attempts to link unrest in Tibet to the Olympics is likely to enrage the Chinese government, which had hoped the games would be a showcase for the country's economic progress rather than a lightning rod for criticisms of its political system.

Last week, Mr Pöttering called for a cessation of violence in Tibet. He said: "The use of force is never advisable. I want to make a call to both sides to stop it. Tibetan protesters should demonstrate peacefully while the Chinese response has to be measured and never disproportional. Chinese borders and integrity are not in question. However, China must respect the minorities living in the country. Their right to live according to their traditions, languages and religion is a basic principle that has to be respected."

He also asked the Chinese authorities to give journalists free access to all parts of Tibet to report on the situation.

Yesterday, the president of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, defended the decision to hold the Games in China, saying there was "no momentum" for a boycott. He said: "The major political leaders don't want a boycott."