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EU parliament wants mass boycott of Olympics opening ceremony

Published on 11/04/2008

11 April 2008

BRUSSELS – The European Union on Thursday increased pressure on China to talk with Tibet’s spiritual leader as its parliament urged EU leaders to consider a mass boycott of the Olympics opening ceremony.

The European Parliament overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling on the 27 governments to explore “the option of nonattendance in the event there is no resumption of dialogue” with the Dalai Lama.

The parliament insisted Beijing should not renege on commitments made when it won the games in 2001 to improve democratic and human rights standards.

And the EU’s foreign affairs chief Javier Solana insisted Europe’s resolve should not weaken as the games draw near.

“We have to continue the pressure,” he told EU legislators. “I hope very much that the EU’s demands will be heeded by the Chinese authorities.”

He said a May 15 meeting with the Chinese authorities on human rights could prove a breakthrough. “Let us see how we can also put those issues on the table and how we can also find solutions moving in the right direction.”

And that can only be done through dialogue with Tibetans, Germany said.

“When, if not now, is the right moment for the resumption of the Sino-Tibetan dialogue?” German Deputy Foreign Minister Gernot Erler asked. “And with whom else does it make sense to hold talks in the current situation than the Dalai Lama himself?”

Belgium has also called on the EU nations to come up with a joint stance on a possible opening ceremony boycott by the end of May.

Nations around the world are ruling out a full boycott of the Olympics. But snubbing the opening ceremony en masse would be a potent signal to embarrass Chinese authorities and express displeasure over their handling of the anti-government protests in Tibet that turned violent last month.

The Olympic movement refused to react to the EU’s move.

“We do see politicians saying things about the games, discussing, talking. We’re not going to get drawn into that,” IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies said.

The European Parliament also urged China “not to misuse the 2008 Olympic Games by arresting dissidents, journalists and human rights activists in order to prevent demonstrations and reports which the authorities view as embarrassing”.

The resolution was approved by a vote of 580-24 with 45 abstentions. It also called for an end to censorship.

“If the Chinese government wants to hold the Olympic Games in a dignified way, it has to address these problems in a constructive, forward thinking way as soon as possible and must not regress to Maoist reaction patterns,” said Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the president of the Greens in the parliament.

On Wednesday, British prime minister Gordon Brown announced he would skip the ceremony. German chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper have also said they plan to stay away, and French president Nicolas Sarkozy is considering not attending.

The White House has left open the possibility that U.S. President George W. Bush might also skip the opening ceremonies.

The announcement of nonattendance by almost any dignitary has been portrayed as an embarrassment to China. Earlier opening ceremonies, though, often had many of the world’s leaders missing. In Athens, the United States was represented by former U.S. President George Bush, the father of the current president.

Still, the EU parliament made its point
“All EU member states should unite behind a common position, sending an ultimatum to the Chinese authorities that if they wish to have the political legitimacy at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, then they have until Aug. 8 to open meaningful dialogue,” said Graham Watson, the leader of the parliament’s Liberals.

[AP / Expatica]