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EU split over boycotting Beijing Olympics

Latest update : 2008-03-29

In Slovenia, EU foreign ministers debated the idea of boycotting the upcoming Beijing Olympics over China's treatment of Tibet. In the end, they called for China to hold talks with the Dalai Lama. (Story: A.Roy)

EU foreign ministers were on Friday split on the idea of boycotting the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony over Tibet, but keen for China to open talks with the Dalai Lama.
At the start of two days of talks in Slovenia, none of the ministers suggested a full-scale boycott of the summer Olympics despite public pressure for some kind of response to China's crackdown on Tibetan protesters.
"We are concerned over the situation of human rights in China and Tibet. We hope dialogue will start between the Chinese authorities and the Tibetan representatives," said Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel.
Slovenia currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, but France will have taken over before August's Olympics opening ceremony.
"We believe that it is necessary to encourage dialogue between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese authorities," Rupel added, while admitting Europe has no  common position on the question of an Olympic ceremony boycott.
Several eastern European leaders -- including Czech President Vaclav Klaus, his Estonian counterpart Toomas Hendrik Ilves and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk -- have said they will not attend the games opening.
Tusk on Thursday declared that "the presence of politicians at the inauguration of the Olympics seems inappropriate."
However at the EU ministerial talks Portugal, Spain and Sweden backed Britain's choice not to stage a boycott.
"I have never thought that boycotts were a particularly effective instrument of foreign affairs," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said he will personally attend the games, although Foreign Secretary David Milliband said Brown would attend the closing ceremony while a sports minister would be at the opening.
"The UK certainly will be represented at a prime ministerial level," said Miliband, whose country will host the 2012 Olympics. "We are fully engaged in supporting the Olympics. We want to see it is a success."
Several other nations have not yet made their position clear.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that neither he nor Chancellor Angela Merkel would attend the ceremony, but suggested this decision was not linked to Tibet.
A government spokesman in Berlin was quick to note that German President Horst Koehler planned to attend the para-Olympics, but it was not clear yet whether he would also attend other sports events at the Games.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana had already announced his intention to attend the games and confirmed that position on Friday.
He said that a common EU policy on Tibet was necessary, but not on the Olympic Games.
The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama appealed to China to enter into "meaningful dialogue" over the crisis, while asserting that he did not want to undermine the Beijing Olympics and was not seeking independence.
Protests started in Tibet's capital, Lhasa, on March 10 to mark the anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule of Tibet.
China says rioters killed 18 people and two police officers, while exiled Tibetan leaders have put the death toll from the Chinese crackdown at around 140, with another 1,000 people injured and many detained.
The 27 European foreign ministers will return to the Tibet issue over lunch Saturday, when their focus will also shift to issue of Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia.

Date created : 2008-03-29