PARIS – French President Nicolas Sarkozy suggested Tuesday that a boycott of the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics was a possibility – the first world leader to raise the prospect of punishing China over its ongoing crackdown in Tibet.
The United States, Britain and Germany all condemned China for using force against Tibetan protesters, but they stopped short of threatening to boycott the games or the Aug. 8 opening ceremony.
China, meanwhile, showed no sign of letting up on its crackdown. At least two people were killed in a clash between protesters and police in an area of western China that borders on Tibet, state media and human rights groups reported Tuesday.
The clashes were the latest in most sustained uprising against Chinese rule in almost two decades – a challenge that has put China’s human rights record in the international spotlight, embarrassing and frustrating a Communist leadership that had hoped for a smooth run-up to the Olympic Games.
China’s response has also pushed human rights campaigners and governments to re-examine their approach to the Olympics.
Sarkozy, who had faced rising criticism in France for his relative silence on the issue, couched his comments cautiously: He made it clear that skipping the ceremony was one of several possible French responses to the violence in Tibet.
“Our Chinese friends must understand the worldwide concern that there is about the question of Tibet, and I will adapt my response to the evolutions in the situation that will come, I hope, as rapidly as possible,” he said in southwest France.
Asked whether he supported a boycott, Sarkozy said he could “not close the door to any possibility.”
His aides confirmed that Sarkozy was talking only about the opening ceremony. His ministers have repeatedly said France does not support a boycott of the games.