UN chief 'could miss Beijing ceremony'

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The UN secretary general has told China that he may not attend August's opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, a spokeswoman said.

Asked whether Ban Ki-moon would not be attending the Games, spokeswoman Marie Okabe said in a news conference: "Yes. That's correct.

"The secretary-general had conveyed to the Chinese government some months ago that he may not be in a position to accept the invitation to attend this important event due to scheduling issues."

Mr Ban is planning "a substantive visit to China" instead, Ms Okabe said.

Human rights campaigners have called on world leaders to skip the opening ceremony on August 8 to protest at Beijing's ongoing crackdown in Tibet.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will not be attending the opening, while French President Nicolas Sarkozy is considering staying away.

US Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton have called on President George Bush to boycott the ceremony.