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Merkel to skip Olympic ceremony

4 min

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Friday that neither he nor Chancellor Angela Merkel plan to attend the opening of the Beijing Olympics, but implied this was not linked to Tibet. Damien McGuinness reports from Berlin.


China on Friday allowed the first foreign diplomats to visit Tibet following deadly riots, as Germany joined some other European nations in announcing its leader would skip the Olympics opening.

Two weeks after protests in the Himalayan region turned deadly, diplomats from 15 embassies, including those of the United States, Britain, France and Japan, arrived in the Tibetan capital Lhasa for a hastily arranged tour.

"They will carry out on-the-spot investigation of the real facts of the... serious and violent criminal incident," the foreign ministry said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack welcomed the move, but said it was not enough.

"It's not a substitute for the ability of our diplomats, as well as others, to travel not only to Lhasa, but into the surrounding area specifically," he told reporters.

The protests began in Lhasa on March 10 to mark the anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet, an event that saw the Dalai Lama -- who Friday called again for talks with the government in Beijing -- to flee to India where he has since lived in exile.

The unrest erupted into widespread rioting in Lhasa on March 14, and spread to neighbouring Chinese provinces populated by Tibetans.

As China's crackdown has escalated, so too has the response of the outside world.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Friday neither he nor Chancellor Angela Merkel planned to attend the Beijing Olympics opening, but implied this was not linked to Tibet.

"The sports minister does not plan to participate, and I don't think the chancellor or I will," he told reporters as he arrived in Slovenia for two days of talks with his EU counterparts.

He said there had been "no need to scrap anything" as there had never been any plans to attend.

Several eastern European leaders have already vowed to stay away, including Czech President Vaclav Klaus, his Estonian counterpart Toomas Hendrik Ilves, and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico's spokeswoman said he also did not intend going to Beijing in August, although she insisted it had "nothing to do with what is going on there at the moment."

However, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in London that Britain, which will host the 2012 Olympics, would not boycott any part of the Games.

Faced with divisions, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he would ask EU leaders ahead of the Games whether they wanted to boycott the opening.

"At the time of the Olympics, I will be in the presidency of the European Union so I have to sound out and consult my fellow members to see whether or not we should boycott," Sarkozy said.

Meanwhile from his Indian exile, the Dalai Lama appealed again to China's leaders Friday to enter into "meaningful dialogue" over the crisis, according to a statement.

"Even at this juncture I have expressed my willingness to the Chinese authorities to work together to bring about peace and stability," he said in a message to his "Chinese brothers and sisters."

"I have appealed to the leadership of the (People's Republic of China) to clearly understand my position and work to resolve these problems. I urge the Chinese leadership to exercise wisdom and to initiate a meaningful dialogue with the Tibetan people."

China has repeatedly rebuffed calls by the Dalai Lama to meet with him and has blamed him for the violence.

China says rioters killed 18 innocent civilians and two police officers.

Exiled Tibetan leaders have put the death toll from the Chinese crackdown at between 135 and 140, with another 1,000 people injured and many detained.

Reports from Tibet indicated no let-up Friday in China's efforts to contain the protests, with authorities keeping a tight lid on potential trouble spots.

All monasteries in Lhasa remained closed, an official at the Lhasa Tourism Administration said.

"None of the monasteries in Lhasa are open... it's hard to say when they will reopen. This issue is beyond our powers," the official, who declined to be named, told AFP by phone.

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