Home | News    Friday 23 March 2007

Call for Olympic boycott stirs up pre-poll France

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March 22, 2007 (PARIS) — French presidential hopeful Francois Bayrou has stirred controversy in Paris and Beijing with a call for France to boycott the 2008 Beijing Olympics if China does not alter its stance on the Darfur crisis in Sudan.

Speaking to aid workers this week, centrist Bayrou and Socialist rival Segolene Royal both criticised China’s opposition to sanctions against Sudan over its involvement in the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.

While Royal urged "pressure (on China) ahead of the Olympic Games in Beijing", Bayrou raised the possibility of an outright boycott of the games.

"France will take pride in refusing to participate in the Olympic Games in Beijing if China persists on this path," Bayrou said, sparking reactions at home and abroad.

French Sports Minister Jean-Francois Lamour told Reuters it was unacceptable to take athletes hostage like Bayrou did and the head of France’s Olympic Committee (CNOSF) said a French boycott of the games would not help resolve the Darfur crisis.

In China, a foreign ministry spokesman said he was aware of the comments but said the situation had to be further confirmed.

"If something like this did happen, the people who raised the proposals might not be clear about the Chinese government’s stance on the Darfur issue," Liu Jianchao said.

China has huge oil investments in Sudan and rights groups say its engagement there is frustrating international efforts to stop the civil war and atrocities in Darfur.

Washington in particular has pressed China to use its economic muscle to persuade Khartoum to end violence in Darfur, where about 200,000 people have been killed in the past few years and more than 2 million driven from their homes.

ELECTION LOOMS

French President Jacques Chirac this week also urged the international community to raise pressure on Sudan.

"If the acts of violence continue, if promises are not respected, the (U.N.) Security Council will have no other choice but to adopt sanctions," Chirac said.

But Lamour, sports minister in the centre-right government, said a boycott of the Games was no solution.

"Taking athletes hostage, like Mr Bayrou does, is unacceptable," Lamour told Reuters in an interview. "Calling for the boycott of an event which besides is trying to bring people together ... seems totally ineffective to me."

The CNOSF’s head Henri Serandour agreed.

"It’s clear that such a decision can only be taken in the agreement with the sports movement. And I don’t think that boycotting the games contributes anything to the solution for Darfur," he told Reuters.

Conservative presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy has also supported sanctions against Sudan, but a spokesman said Sarkozy had not commented on the issue of China and the Olympic Games.

(Reuters)

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