VIPs Ponder OpeningBoycott

PARIS -- While there is little appetite for a full boycott of the Beijing Olympics over China's handling of violence in Tibet, many would like to see a symbolic show of disapproval. Which is where the novel suggestion of a mini boycott by VIPs of the opening ceremony comes in.

Such a protest by world leaders would be a huge slap in the face for China's Communist leadership.

France's outspoken foreign minister, former humanitarian campaigner Bernard Kouchner, called the idea "interesting," and said he would like to discuss it with other foreign ministers from the European Union next week.

The idea of skipping the Aug. 8 opening ceremony "is less negative than a general boycott," Kouchner said. "We are considering it."

Asked about Kouchner's statement, China's UN Ambassador Wang Guangya said, "Certainly I think what he said is not shared by most of the people in the world."

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said last month that he expected many heads of state to attend the opening ceremony, including U.S. President George W. Bush and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Such an opening ceremony boycott presumably would not include the athletes, who under Olympic rules are forbidden from making any kind of protest at events or venues -- including the opening ceremony. It's not mandatory that every athlete participate in the opening ceremony.

"We strongly encourage our athletes to participate in opening ceremonies," said U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Darryl Seibel. "It is a tremendous honor to walk into the Olympic Stadium behind the flag of your nation and to do so in a ceremony honoring and celebrating athletes from around the world."

European calls for a boycott of the opening ceremony predate the protests in Tibet, which began on the March 10 anniversary of the failed 1959 uprising.

A Dutch lawmaker, Joel Voordewind, had already suggested last month that countries "take part in the games but skip the party beforehand."

Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders on Tuesday came out in favor of an opening ceremony boycott by heads of state and government, and royalty.

The president of the EU Parliament, Hans-Gert Poettering, also said politicians should consider staying away from the ceremony if the violence continues.

"Calling for a complete boycott of the Olympic games is not a good solution. The aim is not to deprive athletes of the world's biggest sports event or to deprive the public of the spectacle," said Reporters Without Borders. "But it would be outrageous not to firmly demonstrate one's disagreement with the Chinese government's policies."