Sarkozy changes mind on Olympics

French president to attend opening ceremony after threatening boycott over Tibet.

    Sarkozy had threatened a boycott of the Olympics after China's violent crackdown on Tibetans [AFP]

    "The chief of state stressed the Olympic values of peace, friendship and brotherhood, and wished great success to the Beijing Olympic Games," the statement said, adding that Sarkozy "confirmed his intention" to attend the ceremony on August 8.

    Disapproval

    For months, the French president had left open the possibility of boycotting the event to show disapproval of China's violent crackdown on Tibet after riots and protests there in March.

    Sarkozy had pushed the two sides to talk, saying he could attend the opening if discussions between China and envoys of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, made more progress.

    The Dalai Lama is expected to visit France in August.

    Sarkozy has said in the past that it is "possible" he might meet with the visiting Tibetan leader, though China disapproves of such contacts.

    Wednesday's statement made no mention of the Dalai Lama or the talks between his envoys and the Chinese.

    It said Sarkozy consulted his European Union partners about his decision to attend the ceremony, and he will represent both France and the 27-nation EU there.

    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.

    Bush attendance

    The media advocacy group Reporters without Borders, which helped organise massive protests when the Olympic flame passed through Paris in April, said recently that Sarkozy would heap "scorn on his commitments to the French people" if he attended.

    George Bush, the US president, has also confirmed his attendance, saying this week at the summit in Japan that it would be an "affront to the Chinese people" if he did not attend the ceremony.

    Gordon Brown, the British prime minsiter, has said he would skip the opener but attend the closer.

    Neither Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, nor Stephen Harper, the Canadian prime minister, plan to attend the opening event, a three-and-a-half opening ceremony of fireworks, dancing by ethnic groups and performances portraying 5,000 years of Chinese history.

    International pressure has built on both China and the Dalai Lama for an easing of tensions following the anti-government riots that rocked Tibet.

    Their talks are important to China's hopes of hosting a flawless Olympic Games.
     
    Some experts believe Beijing agreed to the discussions to ease global criticism that it was too heavy-handed in its response to the March violence.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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