Russia will open its first-ever Winter Paralympics at the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Friday, but the Games have been largely overshadowed by the diplomatic fallout from the ongoing crisis in Crimea.
With Russian troops currently occupying the region in southern Ukraine, a number of countries have already announced their diplomats will not be attending Friday’s opening ceremony in protest.
France became the latest country to confirm a boycott on Friday, with Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announcing just a few hours before the opening ceremony was due to begin that none of its ministers will be attending.
"They won't be there. It would have been very inappropriate for French ministers to be there," he told France Info radio.
The US, Norway and Britain are among those who have already made similar announcements.
No Ukraine boycott
Competing athletes from around the world were greeted with a small ceremony at the Olympic Village on Thursday, with a 31-strong team from the Ukraine among them.
There had been speculation that Ukraine’s athletes could boycott the games altogether.
However, the country’s Paralympic chief, Valeriy Sushkevich, said on Friday that Ukraine would not pull out of Sochi over the situation in Crimea, but that he had asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to ensure that there would be “peace” during the Games.
“I repeated my one request, the one and most important request, that before and during (the Games) there will be peace,” he told a news conference following a meeting with the Russian president.
Putin has denounced the involvement of Sochi in international reactions to the situation in Crimea.
"I think it would be the height of cynicism to threaten the realisation of the Paralympic Games," he told journalists.
This is an international sports forum, where people with disabilities can "prove to themselves and the world that they are people without limitations", he said.
"If someone tries to ruin them... that means that nothing is sacred for the people who make such attempts."
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-03-07