British Leader Skipping Opening Ceremony


LONDON (AP) -- British Prime Minister Gordon Brown will skip the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.

He became the second major world leader after German Chancellor Angela Merkel to decide to stay away from the opening ceremonies, although Brown's office insisted Wednesday that he was not boycotting the Olympics and would attend the closing ceremony.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said last month that he was debating not attending the opening ceremony.

Asked whether President Bush would go to the opening portion of the Olympics, White House press secretary Dana Perino demurred, citing the fluid nature of a foreign trip.

"It is extremely premature for me to say what the president's schedule is going to be" in August, she said.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and others have urged Bush to consider staying away from the opening ceremony as a way to underscore U.S. concerns about the recent unrest in Tibet and questions about China's relationship with Sudan.

Brown, too, has been under intense pressure from human rights campaigners to send a message to China. But his decision not to attend the opening ceremony is not an act of protest, a spokeswoman for his office said, speaking anonymously in line with government policy.

She said the decision was made weeks ago and was not a stand on principle.

"He had never planned to attend," she said. "There is absolutely no change in our position."

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said in February that he expected many heads of state - including Bush, Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy - to attend the opening ceremony.

Hollywood director Steven Spielberg withdrew in February as an artistic adviser to the opening and closing ceremonies, saying China had not done enough to halt the bloodshed in Sudan's Darfur region. China buys much of Sudan's oil and supplies many of the weapons used in the Darfur conflict.

The leader of Britain's Liberal Democrat party, Nick Clegg, told British Broadcasting Corp. that Brown "seems to do the right thing late in the day when he is forced to do so because of public opinion."

London is hosting the next Olympics in 2012 and British officials were expected to be prominent at events throughout the games in China.

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