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Calls Mount to Boycott Beijing 2008 Olympics Over Human Rights Concerns

The Chinese government is facing increasing calls for a boycott of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, in part because of Beijing's refusal to condemn the Sudanese government's actions in the war-torn Darfur region. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing.

Celebrities and politicians are adding their voices to calls for a boycott of the Beijing 2008 Olympics to push China to use its leverage on Khartoum.

Advocates of a boycott say China, as the largest buyer of Sudan's oil and a veto-wielding member of the United Nations Security Council, is in a unique position to pressure Sudan. But they say Beijing ignores violence by government-backed militias in Darfur to maintain access to Sudanese oil.

American actress and U.N. Children's Fund goodwill ambassador Mia Farrow recently co-wrote an article in The Wall Street Journal calling for a boycott of the games and accusing Beijing of "bankrolling Darfur's genocide."

French presidential candidate Francois Bayrou has said French athletes should boycott the Beijing Olympics to force China to act on Darfur.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang says such efforts are misguided and self-serving.

"We do not think it is proper to connect the Darfur problem with the Olympics and we do not think it will be popularly accepted or echoed by people around the world," he said. "People are wrong if they think they can win votes or increase their reputation [this way]."

Khartoum is accused of supporting militias that have raped and killed hundreds of thousands of civilians in Darfur and left millions homeless in a four-year fight against rebels in the region.

Qin says China is just as concerned about peace in Darfur as the rest of the world.

But while China says it supports the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers, it continues to sell weapons to Khartoum, and last year, along with Russia, abstained from voting on sanctions against Sudan.

The U.S. has accused the Sudanese government of supporting genocide and has led an effort to get U.N. peacekeepers into Darfur.

These are not the first calls for a boycott of the 2008 games.

The media freedom organization Reporters Without Borders started calling for a boycott in 2001, just after the International Olympic Committee chose China to be the 2008 host.

Vincent Brossel, the head of the Asia Pacific Desk for Reporters Without Borders, says Beijing does not deserve to host the Olympics, because it continues to restrict freedom of speech and persecutes people for their political and religious beliefs.

"The human rights problem is still there and there is a concern, even at the IOC, that the human rights situation can jeopardize the success of the games and can put in danger all these universal values that are supposedly supported by the games," he said.

Brossel says tens of thousands have signed an online petition to support a boycott, but he says no government supports it. He also acknowledges arguments that having Beijing host the Olympic Games may also help to improve human rights by putting the international spotlight on China.