Dutch split over politicians attending Games

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Christian Union party and pro-human rights supporters say no to sending top representatives to the opening of Olympic Games while Dutch foreign minister thinks otherwise.

6 August 2008

THE NETHERLANDS - As Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende attends the opening of the Olympic Games on Friday, a demonstration is being organised in Dam Square in the heart of Amsterdam.

On the eve of the games, Tibetans in the Netherlands will pray for freedom in Tibet.

For months, reports on human rights violations in China have made the news in the West, beginning with the crushing of the Tibetan protests, the arrest of dissidents and most recently ordinary Chinese people protesting on Tiananmen Square because their homes have been destroyed to make way for buildings for the Olympic Games.

Any goodwill generated by sympathy after the earthquake in China in May has dried up.

Up to now the Chinese Olympics have been dogged by protests, the Olympic torch which travelled almost unnoticed through Amsterdam four years ago, has become the target for protest during its world tour this year.

So much so that Dutch Crown Prince Willem-Alexander, a member of the IOC, has called for the world relay to be scrapped in the future.

Nevertheless, Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen agrees that Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende and Deputy Minister for Sport Jet Bussemaker can go to the opening of the Olympic Games in Beijing.

He says their presence will ensure that the Netherlands remains in a position to discuss human rights issues with China. However, Verhagen also agrees with Amnesty International, which last week reported that the human rights situation in China has not improved in recent months but has, in fact, deteriorated.

The Christian Democrat minister's decision has split the coalition. The Christian Union party says it is hypocritical for the Netherlands to criticise China for human rights violations but still send its prime minister to the opening ceremony of the games.

The Christian Democrats and the Labour Party are pleased that Verhagen supports Amnesty's criticisms and expect resolute language from Balkenende and Bussemaker on the issue during their stay in Beijing.

One of the conditions upon which China was awarded the games was that it would improve its human rights record - something Amnesty International obviously doesn't believe it has done.

[Radio Netherlands / Expatica]

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