Human rights groups say Beijing pressed to
use its influence over Sudan [GALLO/GETTY]
A member of the Dutch government is calling for an international boycott of the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in protest at China's human rights record.

Joel Voordewind, a member of the Christian Union that is a junior partner of the ruling Dutch coalition government, said he wants governments around the world to support the boycott and lean on sponsors to use their financial clout with Beijing.

"It is possible to take part in the games but skip the party before hand,'' he said.

"Such a ceremony is only intended to glorify the host, China.''

Voordewind also suggested setting up a venue in Beijing during the games where visitors can discuss human rights.

He expected opposition from organisers, but said, "If the Chinese are against the plan, that means they are against human rights.''

Voordewind has only just begun enlisting world support. Neither the Dutch government nor the Olympic Committee have backed him.

Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said the government regularly brings up human rights issues at meetings with Chinese officials and has no plans to support a boycott of the games or the opening ceremony.

Despite the negative reactions at home, Voordewind still hopes for a mass movement before the Olympics open next August.

"The Americans waited a long time until they boycotted the (Moscow) games,'' he said of the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Olympics to protest Russia's invasion of Afghanistan.

Critics say China has for years mistreated Tibetans, jailed dissidents and journalists on questionable charges and should be doing more to push the government in Sudan, where China is a major buyer of oil, into bringing an end to violence in Darfur.

More than 200,000 people have died in the Sudanese province in a conflict between rebels and militias backed by government forces.

Spielberg quits

Spielberg quit as artistic advisor to the Beijing
Olympics ceremonies [GALLO/GETTY]
 

Last week, Hollywood director Steven Spielberg quit as an artistic adviser to Beijing, saying China was not doing enough to press Khartoum to end the conflict in Darfur.

"I hold much respect for Spielberg's decision and if an athlete doesn't want to go, I'll respect that, too. But the games will be a success, without a doubt,'' IOC president Jacques Rogge said in an interview published in Spanish sports daily Marca.

"The games are stronger than any one person.''

Nobel laureates and former Olympic gold medalists added their voices on China's role in the humanitarian crisis by issuing an open letter.

Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, has said he will skip the Olympics, a move being linked to his support of Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who has been living in exile since an uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.

But Rogge has argued that even the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games did not ruin the event.

"The most powerful man in the world, the most influential (then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter) ordered a boycott and the games were still a success,'' Rogge said.

Rogge expects many heads of state; including U.S. President George W. Bush, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, to attend the opening ceremony.

"All of the heads of state have said 'We will be present' and are not in favour of a boycott. Neither are the athletes,'' Rogge said.

"I think boycotts are a thing of the past, not of the present nor the future.''

Rogge reasserted that the International Olympic Committee would not tolerate athletes mixing politics with sport, especially on the podium.

"We don't want this to turn into a political demonstration. This is sport,'' he said.

The Beijing Olympics will run from August 8-24.

Source: Agencies