April 9, 2008

PM Brown Won’t Attend Olympic Opening Ceremony

LONDON: British Prime Minister Gordon Brown will skip the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, a spokeswoman said.Wednesday’s confirmation from Downing Street puts Brown on a growing list of world leaders who have said they will not attend the ceremony. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper have said they plan to stay away, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy is considering not attending.

The White House left open the possibility Wednesday that U.S. President George W. Bush might also skip the opening ceremonies, which some world leaders have suggested would serve as a signal of displeasure over China’s crackdown in Tibet.

However, Brown’s Downing Street office said he was not boycotting the Olympics and would attend the closing ceremony.

Brown has been under intense pressure from human rights campaigners to miss the Aug. 8 opening. However, Brown’s decision not to attend was not aimed at sending a message of protest to the Chinese government, the spokeswoman said on condition of anonymity in line with government policy.

She said the decision had been made weeks ago and was not a stand on principle.

“He had never planned to attend,” she said. “There is absolutely no change in our position.”International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said in February that he expected many heads of state — including Bush, Merkel and Sarkozy — to attend the opening ceremony.Hollywood director Steven Spielberg withdrew in February as an artistic adviser to the opening and closing ceremonies, saying China had not done enough to halt the bloodshed in Darfur. China buys much of Sudan’s oil and supplies many of the weapons used in the Darfur conflict.

Brown’s spokeswoman played down the decision, saying Downing Street had made it clear at a briefing on March 19 that Brown would not attend the opening ceremony. She referred The Associated Press to the official briefing notes on the Downing Street Web site as evidence.

However, the briefing notes do not mention plans to stay away from the opening ceremony.

At the briefing Brown’s spokesman was asked if the prime minister agreed with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner’s comments that the crackdown in Tibet meant there was a case for not attending the opening ceremony.”Our position in relation to the Olympics had not changed,” the spokesman answered, according to the briefing notes.

When asked specifically about the closing ceremonies when the Olympic torch will be passed to the organizing committee of the 2012 London Olympics, the spokesman said Brown would attend the closing.

Three days later, Britain’s former Sports Minister Kate Hoey urged Brown to follow the lead of Prince Charles — who supports the Dalai Lama — and not attend the opening ceremony.On March 27, Brown said he did plan to attend the games — without specifically mentioning the opening ceremony — at a news conference with a visiting Sarkozy, who said at the time he was debating not attending the opening ceremony


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