Page last updated at 06:08 GMT, Friday, 4 July 2008 07:08 UK

Bush to attend Olympic ceremony

George W Bush pictured on 2 July
Mr Bush had always planned to attend the Olympics, the White House said

US President George W Bush will attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, the White House says.

Human rights groups and opposition politicians including presidential hopeful Barack Obama had urged Mr Bush to consider boycotting the ceremony.

Beijing's rights record has come under intense scrutiny since Tibetan protests were suppressed in March.

Troops used force to quell the biggest anti-China demonstrations in Tibetan communities for two decades.

Beijing says rioters killed about 20 people in the unrest, but exiled Tibetan groups accuse security forces of killing scores of protesters.

'Supporting athletes'

The decision by the US president comes as a key symbolic victory for China and will please leaders and Olympic organisers there, says the BBC's James Reynolds in Beijing.

Some world leaders are missing the 8 August opening ceremony.

Germany's Angela Merkel is not attending the Olympics. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown will be in Beijing for the closing ceremony only.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy says his attendance depends on progress in dialogue between Beijing and the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Bush's decision may come as a disappointment to two members of his own political party
James Reynolds, Beijing correspondent

While it was understood that Mr Bush would go to the Games, no firm plans for the opening had been revealed.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino announced the US president's decision in a statement.

"He believes he's going to China to support first and foremost our athletes. He sees this as a sporting competition," she said.

Mr Bush and his wife, Laura, will meet Chinese President Hu Jintao as part of their visit to China, and also visit South Korea and Thailand, the White House said.

The US announcement comes days after senior envoys of Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, held a second round of talks with a Chinese official in Beijing.

The outcome of the discussions has not been revealed.

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