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Australia PM to attend Olympics, critics fume

world Updated: Jun 19, 2008 08:21 IST

Reuters
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Australia's Mandarin-speaking Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said on Thursday he would attend the Beijing Olympics, ignoring human rights activists' demands that he boycott the event over China's Tibet crackdown.

Rudd, a former diplomat who served in Beijing and who has been accused at home and abroad of being too close to China, said attending the Games was the "right thing to do".

"I'm pretty relaxed about going. It's the Chinese government (who) have extended an invitation. The Australian Olympic Committee has been supportive of the decision," Rudd told reporters after an Australian team reception in Canberra.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has refused to rule out the possibility he could boycott the August 8 opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics if China does not make more effort to resolve unrest in Tibet.

Rudd said he was unaware of any diplomatic tension over his decision and quipped that the closest he had ever come to competitive sport as a bookish young diplomat in Beijing was in a local expatriate cricket team.

"There were only 12 Australians in China at the time and I was selected as 12th man (reserve). As our captain said, I never troubled the scorekeepers much," Rudd said.

"Australians love sport. Australians love the Olympics and Australians love Australian sportsmen and women representing their country at the Olympics."

China recently overtook Japan as Australia's biggest trading partner and the country is Canberra's biggest customer for energy and mineral exports, with two-way trade worth A$52 billion ($49 billion) in 2007.

The China-driven boom has rocketed Australians from 15th place in the world in terms of GDP per capita in 1992 to seventh.

Australian Greens Senator Bob Brown said Rudd had turned his back on Tibetans by agreeing to attend the Games opening ceremony, as well as shooting, women's basketball, cycling and diving events.

"It's the wrong thing to do, it's not the right thing to do. The pollution of Beijing strong-arm politics has reached the prime minister's office," Brown said.