Activists and Olympic athletes gathered in front of the Chinese mission to the United Nations Tuesday to urge Beijing to use its leverage with Sudan to help end ongoing violence in Darfur region. From VOA's New York Bureau, Victoria Cavaliere reports the rally's organizers say China, the host of the 2008 Olympics, is failing to uphold the game's principles because of its support of the Sudanese government.

Protesters outside the Chinese Mission said they are not calling for a boycott of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Instead, they want the international community to use the games to pressure China to do more to end the conflict in Darfur.

China is Sudan's biggest foreign trading partner, importing nearly two-thirds of that country's oil. Beijing's economic partnership with Khartoum, which also includes arms sales, has drawn criticism from western governments and human rights groups.

Some two million people have fled their homes in Darfur and another 200,000 have died since the conflict between ethnic rebels and the pro-government Janjaweed militia broke out in 2003.

In an open letter to the Chinese government, Olympic athletes, Nobel laureates and celebrities, including U.S. actress Mia Farrow, said Beijing "has both the opportunity and the responsibility to contribute to a just peace in Darfur.

"How can Beijing host the Olympics at home and underwrite genocide in Darfur? China still has the chance to spare its games the humiliation as being remembered as the genocide Olympics. We are all calling upon China to use its unique point of leverage to bring about an end to the human catastrophe in Darfur," she said.

Farrow told several dozen protesters that China could use its influence by demanding Khartoum disarm the Janjaweed and by halting weapons sales to Sudan.

More than 200 Olympic athletes from around the world have also joined efforts to end violence in Darfur. Canadian swimmer Nikki Dryden said China's support of the Sudanese government is at odds with the spirit of the games. "We are very concerned about the image of the Olympics being sullied by a host nation that can and should be doing more to end the genocide in Darfur. China's role as the host of the Olympics and as close partner to Khartoum is inconsistent, even hypocritical," he said.

But, the Chinese say the protests, and attempts to link the Olympics with Darfur, violate the spirit of the games. China also says it was the first country to contribute troops to a fledgling U.N. peacekeeping force for Darfur.

Critics say China has repeatedly used its veto power in the U.N. Security Council to prevent tough punitive measures against Sudan.