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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » April 2, 2008
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Tusk to Boycott Olympic Ceremony
April 2, 2008 By W.¯.    
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Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has vowed to boycott the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Beijing this summer, the strongest response from any European head of government so far to a bloody crackdown on protests against China's rule in Tibet.

Amid growing international concern over China's policies, the Polish government and nongovernmental organizations have criticized the violent suppression of unrest in Tibet, the worst anti-Beijing protests there in 20 years.

"I do not intend to take part in the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games," Tusk said March 27.

Officials say Poland is also considering diplomatic pressure on the European Union to force it to take a firmer stance. "We want to increase awareness of this problem," said Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Ryszard Schnepf.

Polish diplomats say the EU can exert strong pressure on the Chinese government by putting on hold the transfer of new technology, canceling armaments contracts or limiting access to the European market for Chinese goods. However, many European politicians doubt if the EU will be willing to take such firm steps since the Chinese government has officially warned that it would regard them as "unacceptable interference" in its internal affairs. At stake are multimillion-euro trade agreements with China.

Polish President Lech Kaczyński March 21 appealed for "peaceful dialogue" between the Chinese government and the Tibetans. "Only dialogue and respect for human rights, including religious freedom and the desire for peace on both sides, can lead to a long-lasting and peaceful solution to the conflict," said Kaczyński.

He added that "The Polish people can be proud of their past battles for civil rights and a history of freedom movements that were epitomized by the Solidarity movement. But the Polish people can also be proud of their history of peaceful settlements of issues based on mutual understanding that is so important for the common good."

Senate Speaker Bogdan Borusewicz has invited the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, to Poland at a date that has yet to be set. "The invitation for the Dalai Lama to come to Poland is a political gesture to show support for his peaceful fight for Tibetan democracy and independence," said Borusewicz. When asked about calls to boycott the Olympic Games, Borusewicz said this should depend on future developments. "A boycott of the opening ceremonies is certainly a good idea because it would be a political gesture that would have nothing to do with sports," Borusewicz said, but added in the next breath that Poland "wishes to maintain good relations with China."

Meanwhile, Yu Ruilin, first secretary at the Chinese embassy in Warsaw, said the Dalai Lama "is not only a religious figure but also a refugee who leads a separatist movement and wants to break Tibet free from China."

She added, "Should he visit Poland in whatever capacity, this will certainly damage bilateral relations. This will offend the Chinese people and negatively affect Chinese-Polish relations."

Piotr Nurowski, head of the Polish Olympic Committee, said on March 26 that he would stand up for any Polish athlete who "decides to declare his solidarity with the Tibetans during the Games." He added, however, that such an athlete would have to answer to the International Olympic Committee. Earlier Nurowski, a former long-standing party activist in communist Poland, had said that athletes were forbidden to voice their views during either the opening or closing Olympic ceremonies. He also argued that athletes should not get involved in political conflicts, especially as Olympic regulations forbid any kind of demonstration of personal opinion and every Olympic competitor has to agree to abide by this rule. According to Nurowski, any athlete breaking this rule would be excluded from the Games and stripped of any medals they win.

Janusz Kochanowski, Poland's civil rights commissioner, said he was "deeply shocked" by Nurowski's stance. "This shocking statement testifies to even less freedom of speech than during the communist era," Kochanowski said. He also said that he planned to meet with organizations involved in the fight for Tibet's independence and the rights of its people "to see what can be done together." The meeting may end with an appeal to the European Union or the Council of Europe, Kochanowski said.

In recent weeks there have been protests in several Polish cities against the violence used to quell anti-government protests in the Tibetan capital Lhasa and against the decision to hold the Olympic Games in China. Some 200 people kept a silent vigil outside the presidential palace in Warsaw on Good Friday to demonstrate support for the Tibetans. Another 150 or so people, including activists from Amnesty International and the Polish Friends of Tibet Association, protested outside the Chinese consulate in the coastal city of Gdańsk, the historic cradle of Poland's Solidarity movement.
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