Syria's Olympic chief barred from entering UK

General who heads National Olympic Committee is refused visa to attend Games

General Mowaffak Joumaa, the head of Syria's National Olympic Committee, has been refused a visa to enter the UK to attend the Olympic Games.

General Joumaa is in the Syrian Army, which has been deployed by President Bashar Al-Assad to crush rebellions in the country, attracting the ire of the international community.

Officials from the Home Office, the Foreign Office and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport made the decision at a scheduled meeting. It is now expected to be ratified by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

As the head of a national Olympic Committee, General Joumaa is a member of the "Games Family", which has the use of speedy arrival lanes at Heathrow, discounted hotel bookings in London and the so called "Zil lanes" on the capital's busiest roads. He indicated his intention to attend some months ago. There have been calls for the Government to ban his entry since then, but Whitehall sources have said that "until we receive an application for a visa we cannot deny it".

The Home Office interior ministry, which deals with visa applications, and the Foreign Office refused to comment, saying they "do not discuss individual cases". Foreign Office sources said an application is likely to be refused if "there is independent evidence of involvement in human-rights abuses". The General is not among those in the Assad administration subject to an EU travel ban.

That the head of an National Olympic Committee has been prevented from travelling to the Games will be a minor embarrassment for the IOC, although the Sport minister Hugh Robertson told The Independent earlier this month: "The IOC have not been putting us under any pressure with regard to Syria."

Observers have claimed the country is on the verge of civil war. Last month the IOC said Syrian athletes may yet compete under the Olympic flag.

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