Page last updated at 01:57 GMT, Friday, 11 April 2008 02:57 UK

UN chief to miss Olympics opening

Ban Ki-moon - 3/4/2008
The UN says Mr Ban is too busy to attend the Olympics opening

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will not attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, an aide has said.

The decision was due to "schedule issues" and had been made months ago, said UN spokeswoman, Marie Mukabe.

Meanwhile, Buenos Aires is braced for Friday's Olympic torch relay after anti-China protests in other cities.

Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai has withdrawn from the torch relay's Tanzanian leg, due to concerns over human rights in China.

The BBC's Laura Trevelyan said the UN was anxious not to give the impression that Mr Ban's absence was a boycott of the Games.

Ms Mukabe said Mr Ban "had conveyed to the [Chinese] government some months ago that he may not be in a position to accept the invitation to attend this important event due to schedule issues".

This means the decision was made before violent anti-Beijing protests in and around Tibet last month that were suppressed by a heavy security presence.

Security cocoon

The Olympic flame is being relayed around the world through 20 countries before it arrives in Beijing in August for the Games' opening ceremony.

The torch's progress has been beset by protests - especially on the London, Paris and San Francisco legs of its tour.

Several thousand police and other guards are to line the planned 13km (eight mile) route of the torch through Buenos Aires.

Argentine activists say their protests will be peaceful but have promised "surprises".

Groups upset over China's human rights record have been trying to put pressure on Beijing as it readies to host the Olympics for the first time.

The protests along the international torch route have meant that torch-bearers have been immersed in a cocoon of security, surrounded by dozens of police officers and Chinese guards in blue track-suits.

In Paris, the torch had to be extinguished three times because of safety concerns, while in London there were 37 arrests.

The US stage of the torch relay in San Francisco on Wednesday passed off amid confusion and tight security.

Supporters of Beijing gather near the Golden Gate Bridge

The Dalai Lama - who many Tibetans regard as their spiritual leader - said on Thursday that China deserved to host the Games, but that protesters had the right to express themselves in non-violent ways.

The president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Jacques Rogge, said on Thursday that anti-China protests had created a "crisis" but that the Games in Beijing would "rebound".

He also urged China to respect its "moral engagement" to improve human rights ahead of the Games.

China said it hoped the IOC would steer clear of what it called "irrelevant political factors".

Beijing says Tibet is an integral part of China and what happens there is an internal matter.

After its run through Buenos Aires, the torch will be flown to Tanzania for the next stage of its journey.

2004 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai told Kenyan TV that she was pulling out of that leg of the relay over concern about "the events that have been unfolding in Tibet for a very long time".

She said she still supported China hosting the Games, but wanted " to see a country that is challenged, [that] is addressing those challenges to the betterment of the environment and the world in general."

Torch lit in Olympia on 24 March and taken on five-day relay around Greece to Athens
After handover ceremony, it is taken to Beijing on 31 March to begin a journey of 136,800 km (85,000 miles) around the world
Torch arrives in Macau on 3 May. After three-month relay all around China, it arrives in Beijing for opening ceremony on 8 August

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Coach carrying Olympic torch arrives in Buenos Aires


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