Chinese premier accuses exiled spiritual leader of masterminding Tibet protests.
Chinese leaders see the hosting of the 29th summer Olympics as a chance to showcase China as a modern member of the international community.
But with less than five months to the opening ceremony, the ongoing crisis in Tibet – and China‘s handling of it – is threatening to cast a shadow over the event.
To date Chinese officials have confirmed that 16 people have been killed – all innocent bystanders the government says were caught up in anti-Chinese rioting.
In response Tibetan rights groups around the world have raised the prospect of a global boycott of the Beijing Olympics.
Vocal and occasionally violent protests outside Chinese diplomatic missions around the world have also seen prominent banners urging athletes to stay away from Beijing.
Richard Gere, the Hollywood actor and chairman of the International Campaign for Tibet, has said he personally felt that it would be “unconscionable” to attend the Beijing games if China failed to deal peacefully with the Tibet unrest.
The Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader in exile, has called for an international inquiry into what he calls China’s “cultural genocide” in his homeland, but he pointedly has not called for an Olympic boycott.
For the games’ governing body, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), there was always the risk that awarding the Olympics to Beijing would draw uncomfortable links to China‘s human rights record.
The IOC has stuck to its line that sport and politics are separate issues and should not be allowed to mix.
Jacques Rogge, the IOC president, has expressed the group’s concern over the situation in Tibet and his hopes for a peaceful resolution, but dismissed any possibility of a games boycott in August.
Speaking to Reuters at IOC headquarters in Geneva Rogge said he was “very heartened” with the stand of the European Union and major governments who “have all said almost unanimously that boycotts will not be a solution”.
The 1976 Montreal Games were boycotted by 28 African nations after the IOC refused to ban New Zealand for allowing the All Blacks rugby team to tour apartheid South Africa.
In 1980 the US, joined by 64 other nations including Japan, West Germany, Canada and China, boycotted the Moscow Olympics in protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Four years later the Soviet Union led a reprisal boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
“From the world of sports there has been absolutely no call for boycott whatsoever,” he added.
Rogge’s comments have been echoed by politicians and national Olympic committees in Russia, Japan, the US, Australia and Europe.
“Not one world leader has sought a boycott of the Games, not even the great Dalai Lama,” Pat Hickey, president of the European Olympic Committee, said.
“Boycotts have never worked… the only people who are punished in a boycott are athletes.”
On Monday the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) added its voice saying there was “absolutely no consideration being given to the idea of a boycott.
“There is widespread understanding and recognition that boycotts accomplish absolutely nothing other than unfairly penalising athletes,” Darryl Seibel, a USOC spokesman, said.
Russia also criticised attempts to politicise the Beijing Games as “unacceptable”.
|The IOC and national Olympic committees have
rejected calls for a boycott [AFP]
Al Jazeera’s Beijing correspondent Melissa Chan says that from China’s point of view it will have to toe a delicate line – neither wanting to appear too tough, which might alienate the international community; or too soft by letting the situation run out of control.
With Tibet under virtual lockdown, she says it will be some days yet before the outside world gets a clearer picture of what is happening in the region.
Meanwhile campaigners calling for a boycott say they plan to keep up the pressure.
On Tuesday activists planned to staged a protest outside the Swiss headquarters of the IOC urging it to block plans for the Olympic torch relaym, due to begin later this month, to pass through Tibet.
Kelsang Gope, a spokesman for the Tibet Olympic Committee, told Reuters that the protesters would march with banners proclaiming “Mr Rogge, your silence is killing Tibetans”.