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France urged to support Games ceremony boycott as new head of European Council
RSF[Friday, June 20, 2008 21:10]
Reporters Without Borders called today on France, as new president of the European Council, and its European partners to say they would boycott the Olympic Games opening ceremony in Beijing on 8 August.

Members of the worldwide press freedom organisation unfurled a giant 100 sq.metre banner showing the Olympic rings as handcuffs across the front of a building opposite the Brussels headquarters of the Council, which began its new session today.

“Threatening to boycott the ceremony may be the only way to get concrete results,” it said. “If Europe does not take a stand, the Chinese government will be able to dismiss future European Union demands to improve human rights. The Olympic flame will be passing through the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, in a few days time and Europe’s political leaders will win respect by firmly calling now for greater freedom of expression in China. Repression of journalists there has not diminished and well-known dissident and blogger Huang Qi has just been arrested again. It is urgent for Europe to speak up.

“French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said clearly that he will not attend the ceremony unless talks resume between the government and representatives of the Dalai Lama. The situation is deadlocked and China rejected the recent United States and EU joint call for sincere talks about Tibet as interference in its internal affairs. Beijing also refuses to allow foreign journalists to visit Tibet and the neighbouring Xinjiang autonomous region where mass arrests and “re-education” operations are under way,” Reporters Without Borders said.

“The competitors at the Games rightly say it is up the politicians, not them, to sort out this tricky issue. The Council of Europe must not pass up this historic chance to create the necessary conditions to extract real progress from the Chinese government. The ruling Communist Party will not always be able to get away with answering legitimate demands to free political prisoners by drumming up nationalistic fervour.”

Reporters Without Borders has for several months been urging a boycott of the opening ceremony by heads of state and government and members of royal families. The Polish, Estonian, Austrian and Czech governments have already agreed not to attend. Most EU states have not yet taken a stand and are waiting for France to take the lead in the name of Europe.

Reporters Without Borders is also calling on European institutions to ask the International Olympic Committee to consider the criteria for allowing countries to host future Olympic Games and to take account of the local level of individual liberty, notably freedom of expression.

About 100 journalists, cyber-dissidents, bloggers and other Internet users are currently imprisoned in China, with only two months to go before the Games start. The Chinese government has not kept the promises it made to improve human rights after Beijing was awarded the 2008 Games in 2001.

For more on the Reporters Without Borders worldwide campaign concerning the 2008 Games, see: www.rsf.org (in English, Chinese, Spanish, French and Arabic).
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