Page last updated at 18:31 GMT, Friday, 28 March 2008

Call for Olympic boycott rejected

By Oana Lungescu
BBC News, Brdo

EU Foreign Ministers pose for a group photo during the informal EU foreign ministers meeting in Brdo
Tibet was added to the meeting's agenda at the last moment

Britain and several other European Union countries have rejected calls for a boycott of the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in August.

The decision comes despite appeals from human rights organisations that leaders send a strong signal to China over its suppression of protests in Tibet.

The British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the EU should be engaging China on human rights.

Tibet was added to the agenda of a two-day EU meeting in Slovenia.

The addition was made at the last moment, in response to public concern in Europe over events in Tibet.

Separated from politics

Slovenia's Foreign Minister Dimitri Rupel, who is hosting the informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brdo, outside the capital Ljubljana, insisted that sports should be separated from politics.

Some European leaders, including the Czech president and the Polish prime minister, have already made clear they will not attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in August.

Britain's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs David Miliband
Britain's foreign secretary called for consistent engagement with China

But the German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the German chancellor had not planned to go to Beijing, so there was nothing to cancel and no link to Tibet.

One European leader who has decided to attend is the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, whose country will host the 2012 Olympic games.

His Foreign Secretary Mr Miliband insisted this was not the time to announce a boycott:

"'It's very important for all of us that the Olympic games go ahead successfully, because if you care about human rights in China, the last thing you want is to have the Olympic games spoilt or broken.

Human rights

"What we should be doing is engaging with the Chinese authorities in a free and frank and open and consistent way, which says that human rights are an issue every year, not just in an Olympic year.''

Mr Rupel described Tibet as a difficult issue, but he said sports and politics should be kept separate.

However, he called on Beijing to allow foreign diplomats and journalists access to Tibet.

With more than four months to go before the opening ceremony of the Olympics, the EU will not take a formal decision on any possible boycott now.

But many will wait and see what China does next.

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