German president won't go to Sochi but denies boycott
German President Joachim Gauck will not attend the Sochi Winter Olympics, his office said Sunday, while rejecting media reports of a boycott over Russia's rights record.
News weekly Der Spiegel had reported that Gauck would snub the February 2014 Games to make a stand against Russia's tough stance on civil rights and its treatment of the political opposition.
Germany's largely ceremonial head of state Gauck -- who was a Christian pastor and civil rights activist in the former communist East Germany -- has made no official visit to Russia since he took office in 2012.
His spokeswoman confirmed to AFP that "the president will not attend the Olympic Winter Games" but stressed that the no-show was not a "boycott", pointing out that several former German presidents had also stayed away from Winter Games.
Gauck, who attended the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics, reportedly plans to meet Germany's athletes when they return from the Games in a ceremony to be held in Munich on February 24.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's government has drawn fire on a range of rights issues, from its stance on gays and lesbians to its lengthy detentions of Greenpeace environmental protesters.
Kremlin pressure was also seen behind Ukraine's 11th-hour rejection of a deal for closer ties with the European Union which has sparked mass anti-government rallies.
Der Spiegel also reported that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and a group of European conservative parties plan to step up support for Ukrainian opposition figure Vitali Klitschko, the heavyweight world boxing champion, including through joint public appearances.
© 2013 AFP