Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General, won’t attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, said an aide. But the decision had been made months ago, because of “schedule issues”, said Marie Mukabe, UN spokeswoman.
She added that Mr Ban “had conveyed the [Chinese] government some months ago that he may not be in a position to accept the invitation to attend this important event due to schedule issues.” It means that the decision was made before the events in Tibet last month and the violent anti-Beijing protests that followed.
The Olympic flame is travelling around the world, through 20 countries.As the torch progress has attracted protests, especially in London, Paris and San Francisco tours.
On Friday the torch is in Buenos Aires, where several thousands police and other guards are to line the planned 13km (8 mile) route of the torch through the city. The torch will arrive in Beijing in August, for the Games’ opening ceremony.
Wangari Maathai, Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize laureate, decided she doesn’t want to do her torch relay, because of concerns about“the events that have been unfolding in Tibet for a very long time”, she said.
And even though she still supports China hosting the Games, she said she wants ” to see a country that is challenged, [that] is addressing those challenges to the betterment of the environment and the world in general.”
“Surprises”, that’s what Argentine activists promised for the passing of the torch, even though they said their protests will be peaceful.
Anti-China groups are trying to put pressure on Beijing, which will host the Games for the first time. The consequence of the protests along the route of the torch is that now there is a cocoon of security around it : Chinese guards in blue track-suits and dozens of police officers.
When it was in Paris, the torch had to be extinguished three times due to safety concerns, and there were 37 arrests in London. On Wednesday the torch relay went through San Francisco amid confusion and tight security.
Regarded by many Tibetans as their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama said on Thursday that even though China deserved to host the Games, protesters had the right to express themselves, in non-violent ways.
On the same day, Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), said anto-China protests had created a “crisis”, but that the Games in Beijing would “rebound”.
He also urged China to respect its “moral engagement” : improve human rights ahead of the Games. And China said it hoped that the IOC would steer clear of what it called “irrelevant political factors”.
To Beijing, Tibet is an integral part of China, which means that what happens there is an internal matter.
After Buenos Aires, the torch will be flown to the next stage of its journey : Tanzania.