China faced rare criticism of its human rights record from the head of the International Olympics Committee on Thursday, even as calls for a boycott of the opening ceremony of the games grew louder in Europe and the United States.
The president of the Olympic committee, Jacques Rogge, called on the authorities in Beijing to respect their “moral engagement” to improve human rights in the runup to the games and to provide the news media with greater access to the country. He also described the protests that have dogged the international Olympics torch relay as a “crisis” for the organization.
Though Rogge predicted the games would still be a success, his comments were a sharp departure from previous statements in which he avoided any mention of politics. Beijing quickly rejected his remarks and said they amounted to meddling in its internal affairs.
Meanwhile, pressure increased on world leaders to signal their opposition to China’s policies in Tibet and its close relations with the government of Sudan by skipping the opening ceremony of the games. The European Parliament urged leaders of its 27 member nations to consider a boycott of the ceremony unless China opens a dialogue with the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet.
And in New York, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon informed China that he would not attend the ceremony, a spokeswoman said. An official in Ban’s office said he had travel commitments in Europe and Latin America and that he was already scheduled to be in China in July, shortly before the games.
China’s human rights policies and the Olympics have become a contentious issue in the race for president in the United States, where the three remaining candidates from both parties have called on President Bush, who has plans to attend the Olympics, to skip the opening event.
Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, said he would not attend the opening ceremony if he were president, echoing a similar statement by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton earlier this week. Sen. Barack Obama suggested that Bush should wait to make a final decision, but leave a boycott “firmly on the table.”
Preparation for the games were rocked last month when Tibetans staged violent protests against Chinese rule and security forces cracked down on monks and other supporters of the exiled Dalai Lama in several parts of Western China. The clashes sparked sympathy protests and calls for the boycott around the world. Demonstrators turned the 21-city torch relay ceremony into a public relations fiasco for Beijing and the Olympic committee.
Top officials in China have claimed that the Tibetan protests and the international protests are part of a plot to disrupt the Olympics orchestrated by the Dalai Lama, who lives in India. They have called the Dalai Lama a splittist and a terrorist whose goal is to separate Tibet from China.
On Thursday, officials also said that they had uncovered a plot by Islamic terrorists in Xinjiang to disrupt the games by kidnapping foreign journalists, athletes and spectators who attend the Olympics.