Angela Merkel and other German politicians to avoid Olympics opening

28th March 2008, Comments 0 comments

But officials insist there is no significance to the absence.

Berlin -- Top German political figures will be absent from the opening of the Beijing Olympic Games on August 8, officials said in Berlin Friday, as controversy erupted over how the country would be represented.

The officials insisted, however, that no great significance should be attributed to the fact that President Horst Koehler, Chancellor Angela Merkel, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Sports Minister Wolfgang Schaueble would all be absent from the official opening.

Koehler planned to attend the Paralympics Games in September but there had not thus far been plans for him to attend the opening of the main games, his spokesman Martin Kothe told DPA.

Merkel also had no plans to be present in Beijing on August 8, and her next trip to the Chinese capital was planned for a European Union-China summit later in the year, spokesman Thomas Steg said.

"I can confirm that the chancellor never had the intention of being a guest at the Olympics, either at opening or at the sporting events as a spectator," Steg said.

Schaeuble said through his spokesman that he would also not be present at the opening.

The wheelchair-bound Schaeuble, who is better known as German interior minister, planned to attend sporting events at the Games some 10 days after the opening, Stefan Parris said.

Steg was unable to say whether the German ambassador to Beijing, Michael Schaefer, would attend.

Speaking in the Slovenian town of Brdo, where European Union foreign ministers were holding an informal meeting, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier sparked the controversy by saying that both he and Merkel would be absent.

Steinmeier insisted, however, that the absence of top German politicians should not be seen as a boycott of the opening in response to the Chinese crackdown in Tibet.

"A no to the Olympics in order to relieve our consciences would help neither the people in China nor the sports organizations ... At the moment I am against the kind of boycott debate that is going on in some European member states," said Steinmeier.

Steinmeier's unexpected statement provoked a series of questions at a routine German government press conference in Berlin.

Journalists queried whether the German government was using the occasion to express its displeasure over Beijing's actions in Lhasa and other Tibetan centers but Steg and the other spokesmen would not be drawn into answering.

DPA and Expatica

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