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Brown not to attend Olympics opening

However, the British PM says he will attend the closing ceremony as the leader of the next host country of the Olympic Games.

world Updated: Apr 10, 2008 20:36 IST
HS Rao

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said he will not be attending the Beijing Olympics' opening in August but will be there for the closing ceremony as leader of the next host country of the Games, maintaining that he was not boycotting the event.

However, British media said that the move could be seen as a snub to Beijing after it has been widely reported in Chinese press that Brown would be there for the opening.

Brown is the first major Western leader to say that he would definitely not attend the opening ceremony, but a Downing Street spokeswoman said the Prime Minister had never intended to go and that he was not boycotting the Games.

"It has always been his intention to go for the closing ceremony when Britain accepts the Olympic torch from China ahead of the 2012 Games in London and the move did not represent a boycott."

"Our reasons for going are exactly the same as they have always been. We still think it is the right thing to do. There is no change in our position," the spokeswoman said.

Brown publicly accepted an invitation to the Games in January during his official visit to China. President Sarkozy of France has said he is thinking about not attending the three-hour long opening celebration.

When asked during the visit of Sarkozy here two weeks ago if Britain and France should boycott the opening ceremony, Brown replied: "We will not be boycotting the Olympic Games; Britain will be attending the Olympic Games ceremonies."

Brown said "The Dalai Lama himself has said that he does not want to see a boycott of the Olympics and that is why I have said as the host country for the 2012 Olympics that is coming up that I will attend."

Brown greeted the torch parade outside his Downing Street office on Sunday but has faced heavy criticism from some quarters for allegedly going easy on China over its human rights record.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg last night urged Brown to press the Chinese to abandon plans for the Olympic torch relay to go through Tibet, in the face of bitter opposition from Tibet independence campaigners.

"From his reluctance to bring up human rights during his recent visit to China, to his last minute agreement to meet the Dalai Lama, the Prime Minister has failed to show leadership on this vital issue," he said.

"He should now follow his decision not to attend the opening ceremony by insisting that the Chinese quickly enter into negotiations with the Dalai Lama and abandon the needlessly provocative plan to parade the torch through Tibet," Clegg said.

He said Brown "seems to do the right thing late in the day when he is forced to do so because of public opinion".